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October Gardening Tips for the Pacific Northwest

Are you looking for tips on October gardening in the Pacific Northwest during this busy time of seasonal transition? I’ll share what areas need attention in the early fall garden now that the leaves are starting to change color and summer flowers are fading away.

It’s the beginning of the fall season and there’s a lot to do in the garden this month. Not only does the garden need to be maintained and cleaned up now that summer is over, but it’s also the perfect time to start working on the gardening projects that will set you up for gardening success the following year.

October gardening tips and to dos

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October gardening in Pacific Northwest: hydrangeas and path with pumpkins

The fall garden in the Pacific Northwest has some unique characteristics and challenges that make it distinct from other regions. Here’s what the fall garden is like in this area, along with some unique aspects of fall gardening:

Mild Climate

The Pacific Northwest, which includes states like Washington and Oregon, has a relatively mild climate compared to many other parts of the United States. This means that the fall season’s weather is generally cool and damp, with less extreme temperature fluctuations than in other regions.

Fall in the Pacific Northwest is known for its rainy weather which provides moisture for plants. However, it can also lead to challenges such as soil erosion and the spread of fungal diseases.

Slugs can still be problematic in the Pacific Northwest with the constant rain. Gardeners need to continue implementing appropriate pest management strategies.

Extended Growing Season

Due to the mild climate, the growing season in the Pacific Northwest can extend well into the fall and even winter months. This allows for the cultivation of a wide variety of cool-season crops, such as leafy greens, and root vegetables during the fall.

The combination of moist soil and cooler temperatures creates ideal conditions for planting trees, shrubs, and perennials. It’s also a great time to establish or renovate lawns.

Frost and Freeze Risk

While the climate is generally mild, there is still a risk of frost and freezing temperatures in some areas of the Pacific Northwest, particularly in higher elevations and inland regions. Gardeners need to be prepared to protect sensitive plants from frost damage.

Overwintering

In the Pacific Northwest, some crops can be overwintered in the garden with the protection of row covers or cold frames. This allows for fresh harvests even in the heart of winter.

café au lait dahlias

October in the Pacific Northwest can be a busy time for gardeners as they prepare for the approaching winter and take care of various tasks to maintain their gardens.

Here are 19 gardening tips for October to help you prioritize what’s important in your specific garden area.

1. Cut Back and Prune Plants

In the Pacific Northwest, cutting back certain types of plants in October can help prepare them for the winter months and promote healthy growth in the spring. Here are some examples of plants to cut back in October in this region:

Perennials

Continue cutting back any perennial flowers such as coneflowers, sedums, and black-eyed Susan plants. Trim back spent flowers and foliage on the plant, as well as any diseased material.

Use sharp and clean pruning shears or garden scissors to cut back the stems of perennials to about 2-3 inches above the ground.

Herbaceous Grasses

Feather reed grass, maiden grass, and blue fescue are examples of grasses to cut back in late October or early November.

Use hedge shears or electric trimmers to cut back herbaceous grasses to a few inches above the ground. Alternatively, tie the grass together, cut, and remove the dead foliage.

Deciduous Shrubs

Prune deciduous shrubs after the leaves drop to remove dead or diseased wood and to shape them as needed. Avoid heavy pruning in the fall, as it can stimulate new growth that may be damaged by frost.

Roses

Prune roses to reduce their height by about one-third. Remove any dead or diseased wood and any crossing branches. Cut just above an outward-facing bud.

Evergreen Shrubs

To remove any dead or diseased branches and maintain the desired shape, prune evergreen shrubs lightly to avoid stimulating new growth that may not have time to harden off before winter. Use sharp and clean pruning shears or hand pruners.

When cutting back certain garden plants in October in the Pacific Northwest, it’s essential to consider the specific needs of each plant and the local climate conditions.

Avoid heavy pruning of most plants in the fall, as this can make them more vulnerable to winter damage. Always use sharp, clean pruning tools to make clean cuts and minimize the risk of introducing diseases.

October gardening in Pacific Northwest

2. Clean Up Garden Beds

Cleaning up garden beds in October is an essential part of fall garden maintenance in preparation for winter in the Pacific Northwest.

Start the process by picking up any dead plant material and decomposing fallen fruit in perennial beds that could attract insect pests.

Collect and remove fallen leaves, twigs, and other debris from the garden beds. Leaves can be used as mulch or added to your compost pile if they are disease-free.

Remove any weeds that have sprung up in your garden beds to prevent them from overwintering and coming back in the spring.

snapdragons in the garden

3. Pull Spent Summer Annuals

Determine which plants in your garden are annuals and have finished blooming or have died back. Pull the plant out of the garden bed by its roots.

Annuals typically complete their life cycle in one growing season. To find out more about annuals vs. perennials read my post “The Difference Between Annual and Perennial Plants and How to Use Both in Your Garden“.

October gardening in Pacific Northwest: fall container

4. Replace Summer Annuals with Fall Cool-Season Varieties

This is the best time to replace spent summer annuals with cool-season annual plants that are suitable for your region and will thrive in the upcoming cooler weather. Some examples of cool-season annuals include pansies, violas, ornamental kale, and snapdragons.

October gardening: coneflowers

4. Divide and Replant Overcrowded Perennials

Dividing and replanting overcrowded perennials is a gardening task that rejuvenates the plants and promotes their continued health and vitality.

October is a great time of year for this process, as it allows gardeners to prepare their gardens for the coming winter and ensures that the divided plants have ample time to establish themselves before the cold weather sets in.

Benefits of Dividing Overcrowded Perennials

  • removing congested root systems, which allows the remaining plants to access nutrients and water more efficiently.
  • producing more vibrant blooms and healthier foliage, as they have more space and resources to grow.
  • replanting in new areas of the garden or sharing with fellow gardeners, expanding your garden and sharing the beauty.
  • helping to reduce the risk of pest infestations and disease outbreaks.
October gardening in Pacific Northwest: falling leaves on the ground

5. Clean Up Leaves

Rake fallen leaves in the garden. Either add them to the compost pile or mulch them with a mower and use them in garden beds.

6. Apply Mulch to Garden Beds

Add a 2-4 inch layer of mulch or other organic matter to your garden beds, leaving a small gap around the base of the plants to prevent rot. Here are some benefits of applying mulch to your garden beds:

  • protect plant roots and bulbs from freezing temperatures over the winter.
  • conserve soil moisture
  • regulate soil temperature
  • suppress weed growth
October gardening: harvested tomatoes

7. Harvest Vegetables and Herbs

October is a great month for a fall harvest. Continue harvesting apples, tomatoes, pumpkins, gourds, carrots, beets, and squash that remain in the garden.

Harvest and preserve herbs like rosemary, thyme, and oregano so they can be either dried or frozen for cooking in the winter.

October gardening in Pacific Northwest: orange strawflowers

8. Harvest Flowers that Grow in October

There are still plenty of flowers in the October garden in the Pacific Northwest. Harvest flowers that are still blooming in the fall garden such as dahlias, sedum autumn joy, asters, mums, zinnias, cosmos, and black-eyed Susans.

Use sharp and clean pruning shears or scissors when harvesting our fall garden flowers.

zinnia bloom heads from the October garden

9. Collect Seeds for Next Year’s Garden

This is a perfect time to save seeds from any flowers or vegetables you want to grow again next year.

Collecting seeds from your garden flowers is a cost-effective way to ensure a bountiful garden in the following year.


10. Things to Plant in October in the Pacific Northwest

There is still plenty to plant in the garden in October.

Trees, Shrubs, and Perennials

Plant new trees, shrubs, and perennials in October. It’s not too late for them to develop an established root system before a hard freeze.

Cool Season Fall Flowers

Add some autumn color in the garden when you replace spent summer annuals with cool season fall flowers such as pansies, violas, ornamental grasses, ornamental kale and cabbage, asters, mums, and coleus for a pop of color.

October gardening in Pacific Northwest: tulip bulbs being planted

Spring Flowering Bulbs

Plant spring-blooming bulbs like tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and crocuses before a heavy frost. Mulch to protect the spring bulbs from the freezing winter temperatures.

Cool Season Edibles

Sow vegetables that thrive in cool temperatures such as spinach, lettuce, kale, and radishes for late fall and winter harvest.

geraniums overwintering in the greenhouse

11. Overwinter Plants

October is a great time to start overwintering certain plants in a Pacific Northwest garden.

Many plants benefit from special overwintering care to help them survive the colder months and thrive again in the spring.

While some plants are hardy enough to withstand winter conditions on their own, others, especially those that are less cold-tolerant or in regions with harsh winters, may require extra protection. Some include:

  • certain types of tropical plants like hibiscus and canna lilies
  • container plants
  • fruit trees
  • some bulbs, such as gladiolus and calla lilies
  • dahlia tubers

Depending on when your average first frost date is, you may want to start the process of overwintering some of your plants in October.

October gardening in Pacific Northwest: orange dahlia

Dahlia Tubers

If you choose to dig up and store your dahlia tubers for winter, it needs to be done before the first hard frost. If you decide to keep them in the ground, add a layer of mulch on top of the tubers for added protection.

Geraniums

I overwinter my geraniums in the greenhouse every year, but you can still keep them protected from the winter temperatures even without one.

12. Winterize Irrigation Systems

Winterizing irrigation systems is a crucial step in maintaining the longevity and efficiency of these systems during the colder months.

As temperatures drop, any remaining water left in the irrigation lines can freeze and expand, causing pipes to crack or burst. To prevent this, the process involves draining all water from the system, shutting off the water supply, and removing or protecting components like sprinkler heads and valves.

patio furniture

13. Tidy Up Hardscapes

Clean and store patio furniture, cushions, umbrellas, garden decorations, water features, and other outdoor items.

14. Take Care of the Birds

As temperatures drop, overwintering birds can face food scarcity and harsh conditions. Providing them with food, water, and shelter can make a significant difference in their survival during the winter months.

Provide food for overwintering birds. Keep bird feeders clean to prevent the spread of disease. Scrub them regularly with warm, soapy water, and rinse thoroughly.

15. Clean Garden Tools

Sharpen and clean garden tools before storing them for winter to ensure they remain effective and have a long lifespan. Tools can accumulate dirt, sap, and rust which can compromise their performance and durability.

To clean your garden tools, start by removing dirt and debris using a stiff brush or scraper. Then, wash them with warm soapy water and a brush to remove stubborn residues. After a thorough cleaning, dry them completely to prevent rust.

Sharpening blades, oiling moving parts, and periodically inspecting for damage are further steps in maintaining your garden tools.

October gardening in Pacific Northwest: inside greenhouse

16. Clean Greenhouse

Cleaning a greenhouse in October is an important part of preparing for the upcoming winter season. It helps remove debris, pests, and diseases, ensuring a healthier environment for your plants.

  • Remove Plants and Debris
  • Sweep or Blow Debris
  • Clean Greenhouse Structure
  • Clean Windows
  • Replace or Repair Shelves and Benches
  • Prepare Heating and Ventilation Systems
  • Disinfect (optional)
blue ceramic flower container

17. Empty and Clean Containers

If you have potted plants or containers, clean them out and remove any dead or spent plants. Store containers indoors or in a sheltered area to prevent cracking from freezing temperatures.

October gardening in Pacific Northwest: greenhouse decorated for fall

18. Decorate Your Garden Spaces for Fall

Decorating your garden spaces for fall can add warmth, color, and a cozy atmosphere to your outdoor areas. Here are some creative and festive ideas to help you transform your garden into a welcoming autumn retreat:

  • hay bales and cornstalks
  • pumpkin and gourd displays
  • outdoor lighting
  • harvest decorations
  • fall outdoor pillows and throws
  • firepit seating area

19. Plan for Spring

Begin planning your garden for next year, including selecting seeds and making any necessary changes to your garden layout.

Start by reflecting on your past gardening experiences. What worked well, and what didn’t? Consider the successes and challenges of your previous garden seasons to plan for the spring season.

October gardening: strawflowers

The specific tasks you need to do in your October garden can vary depending on your location within the Pacific Northwest and the current weather conditions.

It’s always a good idea to consult with local gardening resources or cooperative extension services for region-specific advice.

If you have any questions or additional suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments below. And be sure to share this blog post link with anyone who may find these gardening tips useful.

Until next time,

Happy Gardening!

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October gardening to so and tips

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