Fall Gardening: October Garden Checklist Zones 1-3

October brings brisk mornings and chilly overnight temperatures across zones 1-3. In some areas, the cold has already set in. Reward yourself for making the most of your summer gardens in that small growing window that you have.

It’s time to stock up on some s’more and hot cocoa ingredients and kick your feet up around the fire pit. But first, there are some essential October gardening tasks that should be tackled this month in the area of planning and maintenance that will keep your garden at its best.

Check out our October Garden Checklist Zones 1-3 for a robust guide on what you should be doing in the garden this month.

Little boys having fun raking autumn leaves.

Planning for Your Fall Garden

As you cozy up with some hot apple cider and apple pie from an apple harvest this month, there is plenty of planning and reflecting that you can do during October gardening.

  • If you harvested your own seeds from the garden, be sure that they are dried out and labeled and that you have good storage for them. Peruse some ideas for how to organize and store your seeds, so you are ready for planting season next year.
  • Record the seeds that you collected in your garden journal so that you can sketch out your garden plans for next year. This helps you know what you have and identify what you may need to acquire.
  • Reflect on the summer growing season and make a note of your highlights and low points.
    • What exceeded your expectations in the garden, and what was underwhelming?
    • Were there weather obstacles?
    • When did your first frost hit?
  • Make a note of any diseased or pest-infested plants and where they were planted so that you don’t repeat the same cycle next year.
  • Consider the lighting in your yard. As time goes on, trees get larger and fuller and can shade areas of the yard that they didn’t before.  Did this impact the amount of sunlight that your gardens received? Note if some pruning may be necessary before growing season next year.
  • It’s never to early to make note of anything that you still need with regard to seed starting supplies. Ensure that you have plenty of seed starting mix, grow trays, grow lights, and warming mats. As you assess your materials, organize your seed packets so that you are aware of what you have and what you might like to add to your supply.
  • Assess your tools and note any repairs in your garden journal that may be needed in the off-season. Are there tools that you wish that you had? There may be time to find some clearance items at your garden center, or you can write them down on your garden journal shopping list.
  • Your seed starting materials are also essential garden tools of the trade. Since indoor seed starting is a key to a successful growing season in Zones 1-3, it’s best to make sure you have everything you need to give seeds their best start.
  • If you picked up any end-of-season good buys, it’s time to organize and store them.

Prepping & Maintaining during October

Keep gardens in great shape by keeping up with some October gardening tasks. While many jobs on the to-do list seem to be ongoing each month, in October, we will be adding some tool maintenance and storage as we close out the garden season for Zones 1-3.

October Gardening: Cleanup

Keep gardens tidy before the snow covers them over. Try not to procrastinate on this one. Keeping your gardens free of debris and diseased plants will keep your gardens healthier for years to come.

  • Compost fallen leaves and healthy garden debris.
  • Pull up and discard any diseased or spotty plants and leaves entirely and away from your gardens or compost pile.
  • Clear garden beds of plant debris and clean up dropped fruit from around fruit trees.
  • Remove spent vines from climbing structures and fences.
  • Clean up the lawn of any stray branches or sticks. They will make great kindling for a brisk evening’s fire pit.
  • As neighbors are out raking their leaves, ask if you can take them off of your hands. Leaves are great for adding brown matter to compost piles, and they also make a fine organic mulch for garden beds.
  • While it’s best to stop pruning trees and shrubs at this point in the year, you can still clean up dead limbs or hanging, broken branches.
  • Continue to add kitchen scraps and brown matter to your compost pile.
  • Cut back any newly formed roses, remove and discard any part of the plant which looks diseased or plagued by pests.
a man in gloves throws out a weed that was uprooted from his garden

Weeding the Fall Garden

Organic weed control continues to be a priority this month. Pull weeds early or after rainfall and dispose of them, so they don’t have an opportunity to go to seed and proliferate. Eliminating weeds regularly works well over time to lessen the number of weeds that compete with your plants in subsequent years.

Mulching for Fall

  • Mimic nature by covering bare spots in your garden beds with mulch during October gardening. This practice deters weeds from developing there, enriches the soil as the mulch breaks down, and provides a habitat for beneficial insects.
  • Add a generous layer of mulch or a vegetable garden cover crop to vacant beds.
  • Mulch newer perennial plantings and bulbs to insulate root systems during the approaching winter months.

What to Water in October

  • Water in recently planted perennials deeply. Not only do the roots need the water to establish themselves before a harsh winter, but water also acts as an insulator.
  • Drain your irrigation system and turn off the water supply this month to prevent damage from freezing lines.
A hand rips strawberries from the bush.

Take Care of your Garden Tools this Fall

As you wrap up the growing season, be mindful of your tools. October is an ideal time to take stock of all your garden tools and find homes for them to be stored over the winter, so they will all be tuned up and in one place when you need them. You’ll be glad that you did once planting season arrives.

Now is also an ideal time to start planning for the holidays and picking up some garden tools for new gardeners that may be on clearance.

Check your tools for signs of disrepair, tune-up and thoroughly clean and sanitize, sharpen blades, and oil up moving parts. These steps will give you confidence for a solid start to the garden season. It is also essential to keep your garden free from diseases that may have plagued your garden last season.

  • Start by using steel wool or a metal grill brush to clean any debris off your garden tools.
  • Wipe surfaces with a damp rag.
  • Use coarse sandpaper to scuff away any signs of rust on metal surfaces.
  • Dab vegetable oil onto a rag and wipe metal surfaces.
  • Use a piece of sandpaper to slough away any rough or splintering spots on wooden handles.
  • Wipe wooden handles down with a rag wet with linseed oil.

Indoor Planting in Zones 1-3

October gardening can still be packed with new life. If you have a sunny window or grow lights, you can plant some planters of herbs or veggies indoors.

Fall Garden Harvesting

If you were able to have winter protection in your garden or if you live in Zone 3, you may be able to harvest some of your cool-season crops, depending on the weather conditions. It is possible to harvest potatoes and pick corn as well as pick cucumbers, apples, strawberries, and cool-season veggies.

Also, it’s a great time to harvest ay root vegetables. It’s essential to get your final harvest in before a freeze decimates them. Check forecasts regularly to monitor the temperatures in your area.

Share The Garden Love

Freshly harvested vegetables
box full of ripe strawberries

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