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Linda Crum, Master GardenerOct. 7, 2021
Perennial aromatic aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, blooms beautifully in fall and provides bees and butterflies with nectar and pollen.Photo by Linda Crum
October is a great time to plant a fall garden, so it is not too late to participate in the best gardening season in Montgomery County. Plants appreciate going into the ground in fall because roots develop all through the winter and your fall-planted trees, shrubs and perennials will have a jump start over anything planted next spring. Fall gardens can be very ornamental as well as culinary. Herbs do well when planted in fall. Whether you make a special herb garden or interplant them among other plants in the garden is up to you. Late October is the perfect time to plant lettuce. It can be seeded directly in the garden or started in small pots for transplanting later. Although most seeds will germinate quickly in the warm summer soil, lettuce, peas and spinach will not germinate well if the soil temperature is above 85°F (75°F is ideal). Shading the soil with an elevated board or shade cloth will keep the soil cooler, enhancing germination. To shade seeds with a board, place a brick or flower pot under each end to hold the board off the soil surface. Shade cloth can be draped over flexible pipe anchored by reinforcing rods in the soil. Later in the season, a frost blanket draped over these pipes will protect the winter garden from freezes. Do not plant deeply because light is needed for germination of lettuce seed. Scattering seed over the surface of loose friable soil and gently watering will ensure germination. Keep the seed bed moist until germination occurs. Leaf lettuce does better in our climate. To harvest lettuce, the whole plant can be removed or just the outside leaves from several plants. Refrigerate a couple of days before eating because freshly harvested lettuce has a bitter taste, but that bitterness will disappear upon refrigeration. Strawberry plants should be planted in October. They are perennial in cooler climates, but are treated as annuals here. Vegetable seeds to plant include beets, Swiss chard, Chinese cabbage, collards, mustard, English and snap peas, radish, spinach and turnip. Transplants of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, multiplier onions and garlic bulbs can go into the ground in October as well. If damping off of seedlings has been a problem in the past, try watering the seedbed with a fish emulsion solution once a week. Yes, it may stink a little, but scientists have found that fish emulsion inhibits the fungus that causes damping off. Divide perennial phlox, violets, irises, day lilies, and Shasta daisies. If crowded, these perennials will not bloom well. Work some organic matter - compost is best - into the soil before replanting. Plant wildflower seeds this month for spectacular color in the spring. Fertilize the lawn in mid-October with an organic fertilizer, or top-dress with a quarter inch of compost. Compost will help keep the soil from compacting in lawns. Compost is easy to make from leaves, grass clippings, manure and vegetable peelings in your own back yard. Master Gardener fall plant sale of vegetables and herbs is Oct. 16 from 9 a.m. until noon. There will be an opportunity to tour the demonstration gardens at that time.
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