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Portland Nursery

October Gardening Tips


General Tips

You may have noticed some leaves changing color and starting to drop in the garden and around town. Your lawn grows best if not smothered in leaves, of course, but the leaves can be used either for composting or as mulch in the garden beds. If you are composting them, shred them first and then mix with ‘green’ compost material such as kitchen scraps. If you are mulching with them, consider shredding them with the lawnmower or other tool first. Whole-leaf mulch is a slug friendly environment, and doesn’t protect the roots quite as well.

Late October or November is a good time for mulching in general. While your leaves are great, you can also use compost, bark, straw, or other materials. Please see our November Tips page for some detailed tips on mulching.

As a few of our customers may have heard, October is for apple tasting around here. Feel free to join us mid-month for some family fun. Exact dates vary year to year.


Perennials and Annuals

By now some of your annuals may be looking pretty tired, but there are plenty of options to replace them for some fall color. Pansies, chrysanthemums, asters, ornamental kale, and many grasses are all available and look great. Your geraniums and fuchsias (tender types) may still be looking nice but will need protection from freezing weather soon if you do not want to lose them. See our page on tender perennials for some tips.

October is one of the best months for perennial gardening. Many are looking great now including toad lily (Tricyrtis spp.), hardy cyclamen, and Japanese anemones, as well as the evergreen types such as heuchera, rosemary, and lavenders. Almost any hardy perennials can be planted now, and most can be divided or moved now with little risk of loss. If you are thinking about moving a peony now is the time, though sometimes that means sacrificing the flowers for the next year or possibly longer.

It is also one of the best times for starting a new ground cover or propagating/ dividing an existing one. While it may not spread too much in the next month or so, it will get a head start in spring if you plant now and keep the weeds at bay.


It is bulb planting season if there ever was one! This is the prime time to be planting new tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and much more for spring flowers. Enrich your soil, check your proper planting depth, and enjoy! It is also a fine time if you need to thin or divide existing patches of bulbs.

There are autumn bloomers that you can only get this time of year such as colchicum and autumn crocus, including the saffron crocus. Paperwhites and Amaryllis are forcing bulbs for autumn and winter color indoors, and can be started now or over the next couple of months.


Now is the best time for planting an overwintering crop of garlic cloves or onion sets. Plant like other bulbs, but also ensure good drainage and mulch with a thin layer. Don’t worry if you see fresh green growth, the plants should still overwinter fine.

It is still a good time for starting a last batch of lettuce or other greens. A cold frame or at least frost blanket may be necessary as we near winter, but you can always harvest half-way mature plants before any damaging freezes. Kale started now can provide food into winter, as it can usually survive freezing conditions. Watch for slug damage on your greens, as always.

You may still be harvesting warm-season crops. Lots of great harvesting tips can be found on our September Tips page, please check it out.

Clean up your strawberry beds, removing unripe or rotten fruit. If your strawberries have grown into a thick groundcover, you should probably thin it out. They fruit better in subsequent years if divided and replanted with room to grow.

If you are finished with your warm season crops and intend no more vegetable planting in a given garden bed, consider planting a cover crop there. These are cool season plants, usually in the grass or legume families, that can benefit the soil between now and planting season next spring. They do this by providing a buffer for the soil against heavy rains, keeping weed populations down, and (in the case of legumes) actually fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere directly into the soil.

In the spring, when you turn the cover crop into the soil a few weeks before a new planting, you will also be raising the amounts of organic matter. Note that this does not replace fertilizing your warm season crops. Also, some cover crops can actually become weedy if you leave them too long and let them go to seed.


Lawn Care

It is a fine time for seeding a new lawn, or overseeding a patchy one. Please see our page on installing a seed lawn for more information. Sod can also be installed now, and the directions to prepare the area are the same, though you do not rake or roll after installing the sod. We do not stock sod at our stores, but we can broker it and get some delivered to you. Either way, keep the area moist as October can sometimes be a dry month.

This is probably the last time you should give your lawn any fertilizer, and only if you have not done so recently. For later feeding like this, it is probably best to use a granular organic food. That way the ingredients are unlikely to leach out of the soil during heavy rainfall. It is a fine time to add lime to your soil if you have not recently, and this is recommended at least once a year.


Trees, Shrubs and Fruit

With temperatures moderate again, it is an excellent time for planting any hardy trees and shrubs. Your soil should be workable if it is moderately moist. Generally, planting now versus. next spring results in better roots before next summer, which is often the hardest season on recent plantings.

October to November is usually the best time for moving established shrubs if you feel you have to. Note that this is hard on plants, and isn’t exactly recommended even this time of year. If the plant is small or recently planted you are more likely to have success.

Note that any tender trees or shrubs (such as Citrus, and most Hibiscus and Gardenia) will need protection from freezing and you will need to move them in or otherwise protect them soon. Follow the links to care sheets for each of the above plants.

It is not quite pruning season yet. Enjoy the fall color, and then consider which trees may need pruning later on. See the tips pages for subsequent months, or our pruning guide and calendar for more information.

When mulching, make sure that the mulch is not in contact with the wooden stems or your plants. This can potentially cause damage or rot of the bark and underlying tissues.

When harvesting your fruit trees, it is possible you may see significant disease growth on the fruit or leaves, especially scab on apples and pears. If you have such problems, you may consider planning a dormant spray for later in the season. Please see the November Tips page for more information.


Bulb Planting

Fall Bulbs

Helpful Videos

Videos will load automatically. Visit the GardenTime TV website for more GardenTime videos.

Dividing Peonies

Dividing Peonies

Removing blackberries

Removing blackberry bushes

Fall hydrangea care

Fall Hydrangea Care

Veggie Blues

The veggie blues

Portland Rain Garden

Portland Rain Garden