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Plant mums, bulbs and more
-- Brighten your deck, patio or garden with mums. Florist's mums aren't winter-hardy but are very tidy-looking with large flowers; they're perfect for pots. Garden mums are more wild-looking and will come back again next year. They're good for planting in the ground as perennials.
-- Plant spring-blooming bulbs now. October is the best planting time for outdoor bulbs in the Midwest. Plant in clusters of eight, 10 or more -- not only because they look best that way, but also because it speeds planting and makes it easier for you to loosen and improve the soil by adding compost or sphagnum peat moss. For details, click the link below on "How to Plant Spring-Blooming Bulbs."
-- Force bulbs for winter blooms. If you can't wait till spring for a dose of tulips, daffodils or crocuses, pot up a batch of bulbs to "force" for late-winter indoor blooms. Forcing bulbs simply involves planting spring-blooming bulbs in pots, chilling them in the fridge, and then bringing them out in January and February to grow and bloom indoors, like a houseplant. For more specifics, click the link below to "How to Force Bulbs."
-- Transplant. In the southern half of the Midwest, October is a good time to divide and plant most perennials and roses. (It's too close to winter in the northern half.) Plant trees and shrubs throughout the entire Midwest, but keep them well-watered if the fall is dry.
Rake and water
-- Keep raking. Leaves shouldn't collect for more than a few days on lawns because they'll suffocate grass. Don't worry, though, about leaves around shrubs and perennials; they'll provide protection.
-- Try a compost pit. If you have room, this is a good way to deal with all those fallen leaves. Just dig a big hole in an out-of-the-way place, such as behind a fence or some large shrubs. Fill with all the leaves you've been collecting, then top with the displaced soil when you're done.
-- Water. If the fall has been especially dry, continue to water, paying special attention to new plantings. Even if there has been a light frost, plants still need adequate moisture. Otherwise, plants might become dehydrated and stressed by winter -- and more likely to die out by spring.
Prepare for frost
-- Watch for frost. In all but the northernmost Midwest states, the first average frost tends to be mid- to late October. Cover annuals and other tender plants for the first few frosts so you can enjoy them as long as possible.
-- Store tender bulbs. After the first frost, dig up tender bulbs, such as gladiolus, cannas, dahlias and caladiums, that won't survive the winter. Store them indoors in a cardboard box or paper bag filled with sawdust or other dry, loose material. This will let them "breathe" so they'll be ready for replanting next spring. For details, click the link below.
-- Clean up beds. After the first killing frost, tear out annuals and cut back perennials, except those you'd like to keep standing for winter interest, such as sedum and grasses. You can also cut back perennials in the early spring, but you might as well get started on the task now.
Enjoy your last vegetables and herbs
-- Harvest herbs. Cut herbs before the first frost, put in jars of water and cover with a plastic bag. Change water every few days. They'll keep for weeks.
-- Pick tomatoes before it freezes. Right before the first frost, pick tomatoes green to bring indoors and use in recipes calling for green tomatoes. Otherwise, tomatoes should be harvested when about three-quarters ripe.
-- Deal with diseased plants. As annual produce plants such as tomatoes start to get overwhelmed with pest problems, tear them out and dispose of them. Don't leave them in the garden, where they'll likely harbor eggs and pathogens through the winter, increasing problems in spring.
Prepare for next year's lawn
-- Reseed. As long as you're in a region of the Midwest that still has a few weeks before the first heavy frost, it's a great time to reseed problem patches or lay new sod (left). Just keep your sod well-watered.
-- Fertilize. Feed your lawn to encourage good root growth. Even if you fertilized your cool-season grasses (such as Kentucky bluegrass, ryes and fescues) in September, it's a good idea to do it again in October to encourage faster greening in the spring. Now's also the time to fertilize warm-season grasses, such as bermudagrass, creeping bentgrass or zoysiagrass.