Roots and Shoots: October Gardening = Spring Results

Grow veggies with row covers, a hoop house or a cold frame

By Pamela Doan

Yes, you can harvest vegetables — including beets, carrots, kale, spinach, leeks, collards and turnips — from your garden in November, maybe even December, depending on conditions and timing. Go for transplants instead of seeds and get your protection up soon since it looks like we could have our first frost soon.

Plant garlic

Garlic is planted in the fall and harvested in mid-summer the following season. There are many varieties that range from mild to spicy hot. Don’t use the garlic you buy at the grocery store, though. Those bulbs are frequently sprayed with a growth inhibitor to prevent sprouting. Instead, order from a website or catalog or check with the farmers at the Cold Spring or Beacon farmers’ markets to see if they have garlic suitable for planting.

Plant bulbs

Bulbs need to spend the winter in the ground to wait for the right time to sprout in the spring. Even if you don’t have a lot of time, getting in a few bulbs now to signal the start of spring will bring a lot of cheer after many cold months.

Water well and wisely

As I wrote in the Oct. 3 column, it’s been an uncommonly dry season and newly planted shrubs, trees and perennials, and evergreens (especially broad-leaf evergreens like azalea) need to go into the winter months well watered to survive.

Leave dry blooms on plants like this Joe-pye weed that birds will use for food. (Photo by P. Doan) 

Leave dry blooms on plants like this Joe-pye weed that birds will use for food. (Photo by P. Doan)


Mulching is important to protect plant roots from the heave/thaw cycle in winter and keeping moisture in the soil. Add a two-inch layer of aged wood chips, straw or shredded leaves around the diameter of a plant. Avoid creating a mound around the trunk or stalk, though. Keep it six inches away from the base to prevent pest or animal damage and to let the air and water in.

Shred those leaves

Instead of herding leaves into bags with gas-powered, carbon-belching blowers, treat them like the valuable resource they are and put them to work. Mulch the leaves into the lawn, which adds organic matter to the soil and supports beneficial microbes. Or use leaves as a “brown” layer for compost. Shred a decent sized pile and keep it handy to your winter compost bin.

If you don’t have time for that, let them sit in a corner of the yard through the winter and use them in the spring. Shredded leaves can be used to refresh a raised bed, too.

Close down the garden

The tomatoes and peppers are not looking happy at this point but don’t leave everything in place to rot. These are valuable materials for composting and can give you a head start on needs for spring.

Winter composting plan

A snowy yard and icy paths can be a good excuse not to trudge out to a composting bin, but the materials will still be there. Try a worm bin in the cellar or set up a closed composter in a location that’s easy to reach and you’ll be ready to feed your plants as soon as spring hits.

What to do with diseased plants

The only exceptions for composting are diseased plants. Unless your compost pile really cooks, the pathogens can survive in the compost and will recirculate in the garden next season. One option is to create a separate compost pile with diseased plants that won’t be used in the garden but can be used for trees.

Bring in cold-sensitive plants

Mandevilla vines, geraniums, rosemary and other non-hardy plants won’t survive winter temperatures in the yard. Keep them in containers inside for the winter and enjoy them as houseplants. If you don’t have space in your living space, a garage or basement is okay. Keep them watered and make sure they get some sunlight.

Plant a cover crop

Keep the soil protected from erosion and add nutrients for spring planting. Rye planted in the garden now will keep nitrates in the soil. Nitrogen is used by plants for growth and fruiting or flowering; it’s important! It leaches out of soil naturally and is diminished when plants take it up but other sources don’t replenish it.

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