California Dreaming

Gardening in the Fall: October Gardening Tips

Gardening tips abound for this time of year. Gardening is one pastime that never takes a holiday, especially here in California where it's easy to grow crops year-round. It's still pretty warm here in northern California and so it's hard to believe that we are already deeply committed to our winter garden. In addition to tending the broccoli, lettuce and other greens that do so well in a winter garden, there are the never-ending tasks that must be done every fall. Here is a list of gardening tips for October.

garden tips for winter garden 

Check your soil: summer crops grow fast and strong and there's a reason for that -- they take up nutrients like mad. Now is a good time to check the nutrients and pH of your soil and take action accordingly. Winter crops do best with a pH of 7.0 and you can't go wrong with rich compost to feed your hungry soil.

Clean up: now that your plantings have slowed their pace of growth it's time to prune and clean up. Much of what you gather will be fuel for your compost pile. You'll also want to gather, label and dry any seeds that you want to keep for spring planting and take cuttings from many of your perennials.

Feed your compost: You can rebuild your compost pile by adding all the debris that you're cleaning up from your yard and planting beds. Leaves, trimmings from trees and shrubs along with refuse from summer produce being pulled from your planting beds can all go to rebuild the best fertilizer in the world -- compost.

Plant trees and shrubs: as the weather cools you'll want to install any trees and shrubs that you've been wanting. You'll still have to baby them through the winter but keeping them watered will be less of a challenge than if you had planted them in warmer weather.

Other clean up tasks: clean those bird feeders as you'll be putting them on winter duty to keep your feathered friends happy during the cold winter months. Clean and store those containers that you won't be using through the winter. Inspect, clean and repair your tools. You won't be using them as much over the winter but there's no sense waiting until spring.

Shift and store: bring in those potted plants that you know won't make it through the winter outside. Find them a nice sunny window where they can enjoy the winter months in style.

Time to feed: Hold off pruning your roses until the weather gets much cooler. Meanwhile it's a good time to feed roses, camellias, hydrangeas, azaleas and rhododendrons. Be sure to use fertilizer made especially for their needs.

Tips for Deer-Resistant Gardening

Whole books could be written about methods for deer resistant gardening. Thankfully, deer haven't been that much of an issue for me over the past 18 years living on my property as they seem to have preferred the higher elevations of Colfax, Grass Valley and Forest Hill.

This year, however, is different. For some reason the deer have chosen to place my property in their listing of five-star resorts to visit. For the past few months there has been a family of deer that regularly stop by my property and treat my plantings as I would treat the banquet table at Thanksgiving dinner. A nibble here. A chomp there. Bold as you please with little regard for me and my dogs they saunter through my shrubs, gardens and plantings sampling as they go. So inured have they become to my presence that I can even walk my dogs and they will do little but stop and stare for a few moments. Or perhaps they're just resting their jaws.

 Baby bandits 

And so it is that I have joined the ranks of those who have made it their life's work to deter deer from their garden without the use of deadly force. So, keyboard in hand, I have scoured the Internet in search of remedies and here is a sample of what I've found.

Suggested methods to deter deer:

  • Keep a dog in your yard.
  • Plant deer-resistant plants (short list below)
  • Hang bars of deodorant soap near plantings.
  • Hang bags (a stocking will do) of unwashed human hair near plants.

Commercial products include:

  • Urine from predators such as coyotes or bobcats
  • Scent repellants such as Hinder or Ro-pel
  • Motion detectors that make noise, turn on lights or spray water
  • Electrified fencing
  • Invisible deer fencing mesh
  • Scent repellants made from sewage or rotten eggs

Will these methods actually work? Any methods that rely on scent will have a limited life because the scent will eventually be washed away from rain. And who wants the smell of rotten eggs in their garden anyway? Lights and noise are likely to be limited too once the deer figure out that nothing else will happen. Fencing may be your best bet but the down side is the cost and that it may turn your yard into a replica of Stalag 17.

Your deer-proof fence will have to be at least 10 feet high. If you've ever seen deer in flight you'll understand why. Deer aren't stupid. They will squeeze in between the cross pieces of those pretty vinyl fences that are all the rage.

If you don't want to build high then you can build wide or at least look as if you did. Some experts suggest that you build a four foot fence at a 45-degree angle aimed outward. It will give the impression of depth and fool the deer into not jumping over. Another method in this vein is the double fence where you create an inner fence just three feet inside your outer fence. While I've heard this suggestion I've yet to meet anyone who is wealthy (or desperate) enough to build two fences. Forget the cost, there are some places up in the Sierra foothills where the residents aren't even allowed to build fences.

A short list of deer-resistant plants for the Sierra Foothills

  • Boxwood (Buxus spp.) 
  • Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)
  • Glossy abelia (Abelia grandiflora)
  • Pistacia chinensis (Chinese pistache)
  • Lily-of-the-Nile (Agapanthus spp.)
  • Astilbe (False spiraea)
  • Canterbury bells (Campanula medium)
  • Stonecrop (Sedum spp.)
  • Iris
  • Daffodils
  • Lilac
  • Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria)
  • Cyclamen

So what methods will I use? Given that I'm on a limited budget, I will probably opt to trade out my plantings for those that are deer resistant. Will it be hard to decide where to put the new plantings? Hardly, I'll just follow the deer.