Ann Wright: A different October in the garden |

Ann Wright: A different October in the garden

October can be a fun time for gardeners to shop for fruit and ornamental trees. Ann Wright suggests taking a look at your garden to find out what it needs and take note of changing growing conditions.
Photo by Ann Wright |

These first weeks of October have been filled with much sadness — a mass shooting in Las Vegas, hurricanes and flooding in many parts of the country and horrific fires out west. This, most different October, has been horrifying and grief-filled for so many.

My heart hurts for all who lost loved ones, homes and business; my prayers are with you all.

Gardening seems a luxury when there is so much loss and devastation in communities near us. For some, however, there is peace and solace in the garden — a place to find some consolation and sense of calm.

Gardens may offer a place for new growth, order and a bit of balance. If gardening activities offer a sense of normalcy, there are many things to be done this time of year.

Assessing your garden

Stop and look around your garden and landscape — take notice of plants that bring joy; and perhaps those that have been less than joyful. Assess the location of plants — have growing conditions changed?

For example, look to see if plants may now have too much shade, or perhaps they are in competition with another plant that grew like crazy over the spring and summer.

Some plants may need to be removed, some relocated. If new fruit trees are desired, consider where they will be planted. Late fall and into winter is a good time to shop for fruit and ornamental trees.

In preparation for pruning later in the dormant season, observe existing fruit and nut trees, especially as leaves fall.

Are they growing in the desired shape? Are there remnants of suckers or water sprouts, or are the inner branches a tangled mess? When considering pruning, study the branches; the center should be open enough to allow light to penetrate to inner branches.

Consider planting a cover crop in a spent garden bed — cover “crops” are either annual or perennial plants sown from seed in sections of the garden between harvested crops or in areas requiring special consideration, such as areas prone to erosion and compaction.

Considered “green manure,” cover crops planted in the fall are allowed to grow through the rainy season and in the spring are cut down and worked into the soil.

Other benefits of cover crops include improving soil quality and nutrition, attracting beneficial insects and weed abatement.

There is a variety of cover crop seed available; for the purpose of adding nitrogen to the soil, legumes such as bell beans, peas or vetch might be considered. For building organic matter, the addition of oats, or barley might be selected, or use a mix of legumes and cereal type seed.

Season extenders

Depending on first frost dates, it’s not too late to plant seeds of spinach, peas, chives and green onions.

Garlic is also good to plant now. (First frost dates vary depending on elevation and microclimates — anywhere from Oct. 1 at high elevations, to Nov. 20 at lower elevations.)

The use of season extenders such as cold frames or row covers will help reduce heat loss from the soil.

Some light-weight row covers such as Tufbell or Agribon may be laid directly on plants; heavier row covers need support such as PVC or wire hoops. The soil may still be warm enough in some areas to plant ground covers, shrubs and ornamental flowers.

Plant cool season annuals such as calendula, pansies (Viola spp.), or stock (Matthiola spp.).

Bulbs are also available in such a wonderful variety of colors to anticipate for spring and will benefit from the addition of soft rock phosphate in the bottom of the planting hole. This is a good time to clean up spent annuals and vegetables.

Remove mummies (not the zombie-kind, but the dried up fruit kind) and other debris from around fruit trees. Remove and dispose of diseased plant material — do not compost as infected plant material can overwinter to infect next year’s crops.

Join Nevada County Master Gardeners for the final workshop of the season, “The Art and Science of Pruning Fruit Trees” on Saturday, Nov. 4, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Elk’s Lodge in Grass Valley, 109 So. School St.

The workshop is free and will offer ways to overcome your anxiety about pruning, best times for pruning as well as techniques and proper tools for the job.

For more information about the workshop or other home gardening questions, contact the Master Gardeners at the hotline office at 530-273-0919 or online at

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.

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