Virginia Cooperative Extension

Between the Rows - A Guide to Vegetable Gardening
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October in the Vegetable Garden

Putting the Bed to Bed
Welcome veggie gardeners! VCE supports local gardeners with a host of resources, including free classes, plant clinics and this newsletter. Want to know more? Subscribe here to receive future issues. Missed out on past issues? You can get them all here.
Garden Guide
October To Do List
  • Sow hardy late spinach to overwinter; it will continue growing in the spring
  • Using a cold-frame or low tunnel, plant other cool weather crops (e.g., leafy greens, carrots, radishes, herbs)
  • Thin any emerging seedlings from last month's planting; lightly mulch or cover with a floating row cover
  • Later in the month, plant garlic, onions, and shallots; cover with straw
  • Clean up vegetable garden by pulling up all spent, annual plants; prepare to overwinter
  • Collect seeds from spent plant flowering heads and store in dry location
  • Sow winter rye and wheat cover crops in any unplanted annual beds; cover crops help build up the soil and can be tilled into the soil as green manure next year
  • Make sure to harvest sweet potatoes before first freeze; don't toss the greens---these are edible and can be used in a stir fry
  • Prune berry bushes; mulch around the base
  • Cover strawberry beds with a thick layer of leaves, straw, or pine needles
  • Transplant or add fruiting trees and shrubs to your garden, as temperatures cool and soils remain moist
  • Avoid heavy pruning of perennial trees and shrubs to avoid encouraging growth that could get damaged during the winter
  • Prepare to overwinter hardier perennial plants and herbs; top-dress with layer of compost and protect by keeping out of windy, open areas
  • Bring indoors perennial herbs and potted plants that need extra protection overwinter
Plant, Pest or Other Garden Questions?

Contact the VCE Horticulture Help Desk 

Knowledgeable Virginia Cooperative Extension volunteers are available to answer questions Monday-Friday from 9am to noon.
Make sure to observe the VCE's recommended planting dates and prepare for the average first frost dates in the Fall. Along the coast of Northern Virginia (Tidewater area), the average first frost date is between October 19 and October 29; more inland (Piedmont area) the average last killing frost date is between October 19 and October 29. Throughout Zone 7, the first frost date is predicted between October 15-November 15.

If you still have vegetables that are still producing fruit, pay attention to the first frost date warning and any sharp drops in nighttime temperature. At this time of year, cooler nights can still be followed by warm days that can extend ripening for some plants. However, tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons, eggplant, and sweet potatoes are some of the plants that will not survive a frost. Consider fully harvesting these crops and storing inside your house while they ripen. For some crops, especially newly transplanted or emerging crops, cover plants on cooler nights with boxes, buckets, or burlap to help them withstand lower temperatures. Some crops, such as broccoli and spinach, can weather a frost and lower temperatures may actually enhance their flavor. Read more about the effects of frost on certain vegetables and what you can do to protect them.

Last month's post suggested planning for a year-round garden. A successful Winter garden involves transplanting and/or direct sowing cool and cold season vegetables in early-late Fall and protecting crops with a simple structure (such as floating row cover, cold-frame, or low tunnel) and insulating materials (such as mulch of straw or shredded leaves). Crops that do well include: hardy leafy greens and herbs (spinach, arugula, endive, Asian greens, chard, kale, mache, parsley), some root crops (carrots, turnips, rutabagas, leeks, radishes), and some cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts). Follow recommended planting times. Resources are available on-line on how to build a season extension, such as a cold-frame or low tunnel.

Except for areas in your garden where you are planning for a Winter harvest, now may be the time to put your garden to bed. Pull up all spent, annual plants and bag up the remains for compost (or trash, if some parts harbor possible disease). Leaving plant residue in the garden over winter could provide a place for disease and insects to reproduce, which will only make gardening more difficult next Spring. Remove any plant stakes or trellises you used, hose them down, and find a dry place to store them for next year.

Now is also the time to prepare your soil for next year’s garden before your garden goes dormant over the winter. Adding and digging in compost and organic matter into your soil will improve its structure for next year. Recycle your raked yard leaves by shredding them with your lawn mower (to aid decomposition) and add these to your soil as well. 

For more on Fall vegetable gardening, including how to care for your soil and recommended Winter cover crops, see here
 and here. For other information on how to prepare your perennial and potted herb plants for Winter, see the Fall quarterly Herb Supplement guide.
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