Fall Gardening: October Garden Checklist Zones 4-5

October is filled with a mix of brisk mornings, chilly evenings, and lots of comfortable afternoons for those in Zones 4-5. It’s time to stock up on some s’more making ingredients, anything pumpkin spice related, warm up some apple cider, and kick your feet up around the firepit.

But first, there are some gardening tasks that need your attention. Not sure what you should be doing in the garden this month? Check out our October Garden Checklist Zones 4-5 for a complete guide on what steps you can take to keep your garden in great shape and prepped for next year.

A family of three picking apples in a backyard garden.

Planning for Fall

As you return from the pumpkin patch, cozy up with warm apple cider donuts, decorate with some funky gourds, and put your mind to work. There is plenty of planning and reflecting that you can do throughout the month of October that will keep you on course for continued success in the garden.

  • 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 organizing and storing your seeds, so you are ready for planting season next year.
  • First frost dates are approaching in your area, so be mindful of the forecast. Check your October garden journal for info that you jotted down about when frosts hit in your area last fall. Be ready with frost protection covers because all that it takes is one light frost to decimate your tender veggies.
  • Look up some recipes for the green tomatoes, pumpkins, and apples that you’ve been harvesting.
  • Record the seeds you collected in your garden journal to 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 October garden. 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 too early to make a 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 to know 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 garden tools that you need? 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 4-5, it’s best to make sure you have everything you need to give seeds their best start.
  • If you have a root cellar or plan to save your root vegetables, winter squash, and pumpkins, ensure that the area is organized and prepped for food storage.
  • If you picked up any end-of-season good buys from the clearance rack, it’s time to organize and store them properly.
  • Jot down anything in the October garden that needs bolstering, rebuilding, or repair. Did something catch your eye on a website, garden magazine, or a neighbor’s yard? If you’d like to add something to the garden like a pumpkin vine arch, some teepees, or a pergola, you can jot those ideas down too. Add a list of what supplies you might need to complete these projects.

October Garden Prep & Maintenance

Keep gardens in great shape by keeping up with some garden 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 4-5.

Teenage girl composting autumn leaves.

Fall Garden Cleanup & Prep

Keep your October garden tidy before the snow covers it 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.

  • Have perennial plants far outgrown their space in the garden? Take time to divide them and settle them into their new locations before a hard freeze sets in.
  • Gather fallen leaves and healthy garden debris and add them to your compost pile.
  • 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. Fall 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.
  • Prune dead or diseased vines from grapevines.
  • Add a layer of compost to gardens to give the soil a reward and boost its nutrient levels for all of its hard work.
  • You can leave perennials alone and allow them to die back completely. This is best for the plant, and leaving unharvested seedpods intact also feeds the migrating birds and other wildlife who are stocking up for winter. Additionally, leave a few sunflower heads intact.
  • Tidy up your fall containers and planters by deadheading spent flowers.

Weeding in October

Weeding is a priority during October gardening. 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. 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.
  • Mulch rose bushes and grapevines for extra winter protection.

Watering 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.
  • Don’t forget to water your fall container plants when doing your October gardening tasks.
  • Drain your irrigation system and turn off the water supply this month to prevent damage from freezing lines.
bag of tulip bulbs on garden table.

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 to store them 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.

October Seed Starting

If you have a sunny window or grow lights, start an indoor October garden. Consider planting some kitchen herbs for snipping throughout the winter months. Grow lights and warming mats can also allow you to grow some other vegetables indoors if you have the space to do so.

Outdoor Planting in October

October gardening can still be packed with life! Extend your October garden season by planting in hoop houses, greenhouses, and cold frames. You still have time to plant spinach, parsnips, cool-season lettuces, and radishes. You can also plant garlic and shallots at this time.

Plant your fall bulbs if you have not done so already. They will provide a great deal of joy and excitement when they emerge from the earth after a long, cold winter. You can also plant native plants this month.

October Garden Harvesting

Gardeners in Zones 4-5 can harvest and enjoy:

  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Parsnips
  • Kale
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Potatoes
  • Cabbage
  • Swiss Chard
  • Carrots

Begin digging up sweet potatoes, other root vegetables and harvesting pumpkins, gourds, and winter squash.

If you have any herbs still producing in the garden, harvest the whole plant and hang them upside down in a cool, dry place to dry them or freeze them.

Note that if you still have green or partially ripe tomatoes clinging to the vine, you can remove them all right now and use them in green tomato recipes.

Share The Garden Love

A family picking apples.
A bag of tulip bulbs


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