VIU Milner Gardens and Woodland

October Growing Tips

by Vancouver Island Master Gardeners Association

Welcome to Milner Gardens' 2022 Monthly Growing Tips: Some short-cuts and tricks to help make lighter work of your gardening chores.

Preparing for Winter Also Prepares for Spring

As shrubs and trees begin to go into hibernation, everyone, especially mature trees, needs a slow, thorough watering by mid-month. Stored water in the trunks and branches guard against the desiccation of winter winds.

Adding fallen leaves into landscape mulch increases live molds as well as air circulation, enhancing the soil’s ability to replenish itself. It also saves bagging and hauling them!

The crowns of herbaceous perennials and stalks of woody perennials are important winter habitat for many beneficials. Many pollinators lay their eggs in hollow stems or overwinter in the soil next to crowns. When each cultivar is finished dropping its leaves and its stalks are completely dry you can begin its autumn pruning, but be sure to leave the stems of taller plants at least half their height, shorter plants at least 21-30 cm (8-12 in). Many already-laid eggs will be saved, and you will provide shelter for overwintering adults and queens. A bright frost or dusting of snow on sprays of perennial stalks also makes for winter interest. These will break off easily next spring when new growth pushes up. Just chop off or pull out and add to the spring compost feeding.


Be Brave

Autumn is the ideal time to plan for change. That herbaceous perennial is in the wrong place and will suffer – or die – if you leave it. That flower border along the patio will get fried again next year because the patio now reflects too much heat. That tall shrub is ailing but might thrive again in more shade along the fence. Remove them – all of them – and fill the holes with compost, leaves and mulch. Plants that will thrive in a new place next spring can overwinter in temporary accommodations, like big aerated garden bags protected under the house eaves. The rest need to join the curbside yard waste pick up. The new holes in the landscape offer a new perspective that you can fill with better choices. And half your spring work is already done!

That thirsty tree you cannot move might be doomed, if not in the next hot spell, then soon. Unless you plan to cut it down (and increase the sun’s heat even more), water it deeply and mulch it, leaving air space around the trunk. Place near it a couple of rain barrels from an autumn sale, and let the winter rains fill them up. That winter water can be used when your district is in Stage 3 summer water restriction, and can save the tree.


Some Ideas for Climate Change

Plant a simple trellis into the flower bed along the patio. It will provide shade and a structure for spring peas. In summer, a bamboo curtain on it will provide shade. In late summer, replant peas, or in autumn, plant garlic. In winter, the bare trellis will stop wind and still allow light through.

Add a few small trees and tall shrubs near structures or as specimens in a sunny area. They regulate temperatures, reduce CO2 levels, provide shade, windbreaks, and bird and pollinator habitat. Try a witch hazel, fig, flowering quince, or Japanese maple. Brian Minter notes the green-leafed maple cultivars are “more resilient and more drought-tolerant than the red leafed varieties.” Dianne Pierce, plantswoman extraordinaire, offers other great choices on the MGABC website. Just Google 'Ten Best Trees for Small Gardens' - MGABC.


Green Groaners

The real reason we plant bulbs in autumn?  To help the worms see where they are going.

What did the gardener say at Thanksgiving dinner? “Lettuce be thankful for garden jokes.”