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Digging Dahlia's and Other October Gardening Tips

By Leonard Perry
10/2/2012 12:58:16 PM

Digging dahlia tubers and storing them for winter, planting garlic now for harvesting next July, and testing soil, are some of the gardening activities for this month.

When the first frost blackens the foliage of dahlias, cut off the stems about 6 inches above the tubers (the large swollen roots). Carefully dig the clumps with a spade or fork, and rinse them off. Let them dry out of direct sun and wind for a day (not too long or they'll begin to shrivel). Store the tuber clumps whole in ventilated plastic bags filled with peat moss, vermiculite, or sawdust. Or you can pot into barely moist soil. Place bags in a box and keep them, or pots, in a dark, 35- to 50-degree F location such as cellar or unheated garage.

Dig gladiolus corms (their flattened storage bulbs) when leaves have mostly died back-much later in fall than the dahlias. Shake dirt off, cut leaves off near the corm, and store in paper bags. They are not as fussy about moisture and storage as dahlias, but don't let them freeze either.

Plant garlic now for harvesting next summer. Purchase garlic sold specifically for planting, or buy organic garlic. Garlic bought in grocery stores for cooking may have been treated to not sprout, and are usually not adapted to our climate. Try some different varieties to see which you prefer.

Break the garlic head into individual cloves, keeping the largest ones for planting. (Use the small cloves for cooking.) Plant cloves about 3-inches apart, 2-inches deep, with the pointed side up. Mulch the bed well with straw. Use crop rotation to avoid diseases-don't plant garlic where you grew it, onions, or cabbage last year.

Avoid pruning woody plants now because this will encourage a flush of new growth that will likely be damaged by the upcoming cold temperatures. Instead, wait until late winter or early spring to prune most trees and shrubs, including fruit trees.

If you test your soil and add any needed amendments now, the soil will be ready for planting when you are in the spring. Some amendments take time to break down and become available to plants. If you have a nearby Extension Service office, you can take advantage of their low-priced soil testing service. If not, you can send a soil sample away to a soil lab, or get a do-it-yourself kit. Most plants prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.5 to 6.8 (a pH of 7 is neutral). New England soils tend to be acidic and frequently require the addition of lime. But your soil can vary from location to location in your yard, so if you notice different characteristics of the soil in different beds, test them separately.

Hard as it is to do, refrain from cutting any more roses and let the fruits (rose hips) form. This will signal to the plant that it's time to harden off for winter. Don't spread winter mulch around roses until after the ground freezes-usually mid to late November is a good time.

Usually the first half of the month is when you'll stop mowing. Keeping grass mowed, going into winter, will help prevent snow mold disease on taller, packed-down grass. Keep leaves raked from lawns so they don't smother the grass. Spread a thin topping of compost on the lawn after you rake up leaves, and rake again to settle the compost.

Other gardening tips for this month include checking and replacing faded garden labels, carving pumpkins, and planting daffodils and other spring bulbs if you haven't done so already.

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