October Zone 5

What to do in the garden in October in zone 5

  • Plant bulbs  Plant spring blooming bulbs in September or early October.
  • Divide bulbs  Divide summer and fall blooming bulbs after the foliage has yellowed.
  • Lift tender bulbs  After the first frost, dig up dahlias, gladiola, cannas and begonias.  Wait for the foliage to yellow and store.
  • Lower the blade  Lowering the blade again on the lawn mower as temperatures cool even more.  You should be mowing quite short the last time or two.  Long grass going into winter provide bedding and cover for rodents, and can lead to snow mold next spring.
  • Plant trees  If the weather doesn’t turn cool quickly, you can still plant container grown or balled and burlap trees and evergreens in very early October.  Make sure they get plenty of water to establish roots before the soil freezes.
  • Water evergreens  Keep watering your evergreens right up until the ground freezes.  They will continue to draw and store water until the roots are frozen.
  • Water shrubs and trees  Keep watering shrubs and trees thoroughly in fall.  They will reduce water intake on their own to prepare for dormancy, so don’t decide for them when to reduce by withholding water.  Plants that keep growing late in autumn, such as rhododendrons, evergreen azalea, boxwood and holly, are susceptible to early freeze damage.  They need to be well watered until the ground freezes to protect them from damage.
  • Protect trunks  Young tree trunks and shrubs can be protected from damage by mice, rabbits and deer by installing a barrier.  For trees, slit plastic sleeves are available at garden centers.  Or wrap with hardware cloth.  A chicken wire fence installed around shrubs with stakes works well for young shrubs.
  • Feed the vegetable beds  Dig compost or manure into the vegetable beds.  You can dig shredded falls leaves into the beds too.
  • Start another compost  Shred your fall leaves to start another compost pile.  Add weed free garden waste.
  • Clean out containers  After frost has killed your container plants, empty containers into the compost pile.  Clean and store clay and ceramic pots in the garage so they don’t crack.  Remove crusted minerals from clay pots by soaking in water for several hours.  Scrub with steel wool and dish soap if needed.
  • Cut back perennials  If you prefer neat garden beds going into winter, you may cut back perennials after a hard freeze.  Ideally, perennial foliage should be left to over winter.  They tend to hold leaves and snow which gives your perennials extra protection in the winter.
  • Dig a new bed  Start a new garden bed in autumn when you are not so busy with spring chores.
  • Clean up fruit  Clean up and remove any fallen fruit.  Decaying fruit will harbor pests and disease.
  • Prune damaged wood  Remove any dead or damaged tree and shrub limbs from summer storms.
  • Rake leaves  Rake up and remove fallen leaves.  Shred them for compost.


  • Mulch  Apply a thick layer of mulch around plants after the ground freezes.  This will prevent cycles of freeze and thaw between now and spring.  Use bark mulch, shredded leaves, evergreen boughs or straw.  Be cautious about using hay bales widely available this time of year, they are usually full of weed seeds.
  • Protect tender roses  Prepare your winter rose protection to put in place when the ground freezes.  If you winter tip, bury them before the ground freezes.
  • Store hoses  Drain garden hoses and sprinklers and store for the winter.  Shut off water to the outside spigots.
  • Store garden chemicals  Chemicals and sprays should be stored over 40 degrees.
  • Get the birdfeeders out  Clean out the birdfeeders, stock and hang them.
  • Prune Oak and Walnut  By end of August through October it is safe to prune Oak and Walnut Trees.
calendarSharon Dwyer