October to-do list for gardeners

By Rebecca Jepsen
for the Mercury News
October 2, 2009

Gardeners, here's your October to-do list:

Clean garden beds in preparation for winter. Many insects and diseases overwinter in fallen debris. Prune diseased leaves from roses, camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas. Leave leaf litter under oaks, pine and junipers; the leaf duff helps protect the roots.

Add a mulch layer to existing garden beds to provided needed nutrients for next year's crops. But don't practice wall-to-wall mulching — it's important to leave areas of exposed native soil for ground-nesting bees.

Trim perennials such as salvias, penstemons, yarrow and buddleia (butterfly bush) to half to one third their existing size to stimulate healthy new growth in the spring.

Harvest persimmons by cutting vs. pulling the fruit off to avoid damaging the tree. Harvest Fuyu persimmons when firm and crisp; wait to harvest the Hachiya variety until fruit is soft. Persimmon trees grow to about 25 feet tall and wide, making it a nicely contained choice for a landscape tree.

Chill tulip bulbs now in order to plant before the first frost. Tulip bulbs need six to eight weeks chilling time (in the fridge, not the freezer) before planting. Avoid storing bulbs near apples; apples emit ethylene, which will cause bulbs to sprout prematurely.

Sow native wildflowers; poppies, clarkias, lupines and blue-eyed Marys are easy to start from seed. Planting just before the winter rains start will prevent the need for manual watering.

WHAT TO PLANT NOW

Transplants: arugula, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery,
chives, fava beans, garlic, kale, lettuce, mustard, onions, parsley, peas, potatoes, spinach, Swiss chard. Local nurseries should have a good supply of most of these.

Seeds: arugula, fava beans, garlic, kale, lettuce, mustard, peas, radishes, spinach.

To find a list of cool-season vegetables that do well in Santa Clara County, go to: mastergardeners.org/picks/cool.html or call the hot line at 408-282-3105.