When one gardening season starts to come to an end in fall, there is no rest as the mind starts thinking forward to next year. Most people think of spring and summer as the key growing periods each year, so you may wonder, what plants can be sown in October?
There remains a lot that can be planted in October. Many flowers and vegetables can be sown to come to the fore next spring and summer. A bit of planning now can help make flower beds bloom earlier and crops be ready that bit sooner.
I spent many years working in public gardens in the UK that were open to visitors year-round. Plant displays and crops were planned well in advance to ensure there was something of interest for people to see 12 months of the year, which meant our planting season extended well into fall.
What can you sow in October
There are lots of choices for plants to start in October, which can be used in a whole host of garden ideas. Whether you are planning flower beds for next spring or thinking ahead to next year’s vegetable garden, the cool soil of fall is a great time to sow seeds. We take a closer look at some of the best flowers and vegetables to sow in October.
1. Sweet peas
These cottage garden favorites are hugely popular and one of the easiest flowers to grow from seed. If you want to grow sweet peas, the good news is that there is such a huge range of colors to grow and they are very versatile, they can be grown in the ground or as part of any container gardening ideas.
Sweet peas can either be sown in fall or spring, and October is a great time to start them off if you want to do the former. Seeds sown in fall will get off to a solid start in gentle fall warmth indoors, but will need to be protected overwinter in a greenhouse or cold frame. However, the advantage you get is earlier blooms and sturdier plants than those sown in spring. By continuing to pinch them back they will be bushy plants once the time to harden off seedlings comes around in spring, before sweet peas are planted out once the risk of frosts are over.
Cornflowers are a gorgeous annual flower that are great for if you are planning a cut flower garden, while they are also often seen as part of wildflower garden ideas. Cornflower seeds are often part of mixes sold to people who want to plant a wildflower meadow. The plants come in a range of colors, including shades of pink and dark red as well as the classic cornflower blue.
If you live in a US hardiness zone that has mild winters, then a sowing of cornflowers in October can help you to have bigger plants and earlier flowers come next year. Cornflowers can tolerate a light frost, so young plants can survive through milder winters. However, if you do have cold winters then it might be better to wait until early-to-mid spring to sow cornflowers for a summer display - they are a great option for a flower to plant in March.
Cornflowers can be sown either directly in the ground or into pots and given a light covering of soil, as the seeds are small and do not want to be buried too deep.
Alliums are spectacular plants, with their tall and statuesque stems topped with large pom pom blooms. These spring bulbs are planted in the fall to shoot come spring and they can be the star of the show in beds or borders, or be used as statement flowers standing tall and proud in pots. They can grow to over a metre in height, and in shades of purple, pink, blue, or white, there are alliums out there for any style of backyard ideas.
The time to plant allium bulbs comes in September through October and they ideally want to be in a minimum of six weeks before the first frost. Alliums are one of the best spring bulbs to plant in fall and also a fantastic perennial bulb to plant in fall, as they are thought to give you four years of flowering after you plant them. As with whenever you are planting bulbs in fall, you want to plant them three times the depth of the bulb.
The cowslip, also known as Primula veris, is a perennial and a great shade plant for anyone with a darker spot in their garden. Growing only up to 10 inches in height, cowslips put out gorgeous yellow flowers on tall erect stems on top of clumps of toothed leaves.
Cowslips are native to Europe but are also commonly seen in large parts of eastern North America. The plants can be sown from seed in October and the seeds need a period of cold weather to break their dormancy. Sow the seeds directly into the garden around six weeks before the first frost, so the plant can put out roots in the warmer fall soil before winter arrives.
Once established, cowslips will put on their show of lemony blooms in mid-to-late spring and will self seed themselves around the garden. Cowslips are a woodland plant that can work in any border and rock garden, or be used as edging along the side of paths or at the front of beds.
October is the ideal time to plant garlic in the kitchen garden. Garlic comes in hardneck and softneck varieties and many bulbs want a period of cold, around 30-60 days of temperatures at 32-50°F. That makes late fall or early winter an ideal time to get the bulbs in the ground if you want to grow garlic. If you want to grow elephant garlic, then October is also a good time to plant it.
Garlic tends to be grown in the ground in vegetable gardens, but you can also grow garlic in pots successfully. Cloves should be separated from a garlic bulb and pushed into the ground, covered by at least an inch of soil. While there is a good range of garlic bulbs to plant, you should not grow garlic from grocery store garlic - as these bulbs are often treated with chemicals to stop them sprouting and could bring diseases into the garden.
6. Corn salad
Corn salad, also commonly known as lamb’s lettuce or mache, is a very hardy salad leaf that can be harvested throughout winter to add to salads. It is a little-known vegetable that is an ideal cool season crop if you want vegetables to grow in a greenhouse in fall - while it can also successfully thrive outdoors to crop during the colder months as corn salad can survive very low temperatures.
The seeds can germinate in temperatures as low as 50°F so are perfect to sow in fall. It has a mild flavor and corn salad can either be harvested as individual leaves, or the entire head can be cut with a sharp pair of pruning shears, or knife, to regrow. You can buy Dutch Broad Leaved Corn Salad Seeds from True Leaf Market.
October is an ideal time to plant many types of onions. Overwintering varieties of onions can be planted in the fall to give an earlier harvest of onions than ones planted in the spring, around 4-6 weeks sooner. The soil in fall is warm enough to plant onions and let them get a good start and put out roots before winter arrives. They will hibernate over winter and then be ready to grow quickly once the weather warms in spring.
You can grow onions from seeds or sets, and there are pros and cons of both methods. Using sets, which are essentially small bulbs, is the easiest way to grow onions and types planted in fall will be ready to harvest come early summer next year. If your soil type is heavy, or the ground gets waterlogged, then it is best to hold off and plant sets in spring as rotting could be an issue.
What to plant in October for winter color?
There are great options for getting plants in the ground in October to provide a bit of color in a winter garden. This can include flowering shrubs like skimmia, pyracantha, or sarcococca to provide pops of color during the cold season. Also, planting the likes of pansies, hellebores, or even ornamental cabbages can also help to brighten up the garden at an otherwise quiet time of year.
There are a lot of options out there for fall sowings. Do some research and check out your local garden centers and nurseries, or visit online retailers, to see the wide range of flowers and vegetables to plant in October.
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Drew’s passion for gardening started with growing vegetables and salad in raised beds in a small urban terrace garden. He has gone on to work as a professional gardener in historic gardens across the UK and also specialise as a kitchen gardener growing vegetables, fruit, herbs, and cut flowers. That passion for growing extends to being an allotmenteer, garden blogger, and producing how-to gardening guides for websites. Drew was shortlisted in the New Talent of the Year award at the 2023 Garden Media Guild Awards.
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