October's Southern California Gardening Tips

October is the month where the leaves start to fall from the trees, your signal that it is time to prune–and generally it is time to clean up the garden, think about composting and aerating your soil. Clean up means deadheading, and pruning some plants to the ground, clearing away the clippings, disposing of any and all diseased garden matter, mulching for protection and aerating the soil. Last season weeding, to prevent a bumper crop of weeds in spring, is also recommended.Your watering schedule will change, but beware, just because days are shorter and cooler, fall is windy and that dries soil and plants–still water deeply, just not as often. If there is anything outside that will not weather the rain and wind, bring it into storage until spring. This is the time of year a lot of insects lay eggs, so watch for that. Removing cuttings can help you defeat next years insect population.

Aerate your lawns this month, as you look for, and remove weeds. If your lawn looks like it needs it, feed it lightly. Depending on where you live, you should be able to do just one last cutting. Just leave the cuttings out on the lawn to decompose. This can help protect against sudden frost and also helps to feed the lawn. In some areas, if you have a Bermuda grass lawn, you can overseed your lawn with perennial rye grass seed for a winter lawn. To do this, you would cut the grass as low as possible, rake and remove all clippings, and remove thatch to expose the bare soil. Apply the seed and water well. Cover the lawn with sand or compost to help settle the seed. Keep the lawn moist until the seeds germinate. As the lawn grows, you will be able to water less.

Now is the time to lightly prune roses back about 1/3 of each cane. Remove all weak and spindly canes to promote new vigorous growth later. Fertilize lightly and mulch, but don’t bring the mulch up to the base of the plants. Always remove canes that rub against each other.

You still have time to plant spring flowering bulbs. A good selection of bulbs for the southwest areas include amaryllis, narcissus, gladiolus, iris, freesia, ranunculus, Easter, Formosan and regal lily, spider lily, and rain lilies. Make sure you follow directions for each kind, don’t plant too deep or too shallow. Some of your summer bulbs, like dahlias and cannas, can be dug up and stored in a cool, dark, dry place. Pack them in peat moss and label.

Trees and Shrubs
Trees and shrubs transplant easily this month, due to cooler air temperatures, while the ground in most southwestern areas is still relatively warm. Water new plants daily until they have a chance to root, later you can, water less often. In areas where citrus grows, this is the time to plant orange, grapefruit, tangerines, etc. Again, water daily for a couple of weeks, then as winter approaches, only water once or twice a week.

This is the time to plant the cool season veggies – lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, onions and garlic, etc.–depending on your zone. Wind protection is an issue in some parts of the southwest, remember wind really damages young seedlings. Now is the time to plant onion and garlic sets (bulbs not seeds) for next spring.

Perennials and Annuals
For fall and winter color, most areas are fine for new plantings of petunias, pansies, snapdragons, calendulas and stocks. Fix up your soil by mixing in compost, peat moss or aged manure. Mulch to protect all plants. A lot of your summer perennials should be cut down to ground level–removing the debris to the compost heap–as long as it is weed and disease free. Aerate the soil and sow the seeds for wildflowers to bloom in spring.