The third week of October is still a good time to plant spring blooming bulbs, add trees and shrubs to the landscape, and to dig and divide overgrown perennials such as daylilies and hosta.
After a first frost browns the foliage of cannas and tuberous begonias, cut the top off the plant at ground level and lift the bulb from the soil. You can store winter tender bulbs in a brown paper bag inside a garage or garden shed where the tubers will be cold but not freezing. If you plan on overwintering your geraniums or tender fuchsias, now is the time to move them indoors.
Q. We have a big leaf maple tree in our yard that drops many leaves. Must I collect all these leaves from the lawn? I would rather just chop up the leaves when I mow and allow them to improve the soil. My wife insists these fallen leaves will kill the lawn. Your opinion? R.T., Tacoma
A. The wife wins on this one. Make your lawn happy by raking the large maple leaves before you mow. Not only will this allow sunlight to reach the lawn all winter but you can store the fallen leaves inside large plastic garbage bags and let them rot all winter to create wonderful leaf mold.
Be sure to add a shovel of damp soil to the bag of leaves to provide the microscopic critters that will break down and transform the maple leaves. You must also poke holes into the plastic bag of leaves (I use a screw driver to do this) as air will speed up the decomposition of the leaves. Store the bags of leaves out of sight behind your shrubs or in a shed.
In the spring you can spread this leaf mold on top of your beds to smother weeds and seal in moisture. Need a shortcut? Rake the fallen leaves into your shrub beds just to get them off the lawn quickly. Trees and shrubs appreciate a blanket of fallen leaves — lawn grasses do not.
Q. What is the secret to keeping those big beautiful heads of ornamental cabbage and kale free of slugs? Every year my winter pansies and ornamental cabbage turn into lacework from tiny slugs. These baby slugs seem to hide in the folds of the cabbage leaves and slug bait does not work. P.S., Olympia
A. Sounds like you need the slug melting, kitchen cupboard remedy of ammonia and water. Fill an empty Windex spray bottle with one third ammonia (buy this at the grocery store) diluted with two thirds water. Go out at night and spray the tiny slugs that feed on the cabbage. The ammonia will melt the slugs on contact. It will also act as a fertilizer as ammonia converts to nitrogen. The reason you use a Windex bottle is to remind you that this mixture is also good for washing windows. If you do not recycle a spray bottle be sure to label any product that is not in its original container.
Q. When is it too late to reseed a lawn? Also I tested my soil where I will seed a new lawn and it is on the acid spectrum. What time of year should I add lime to make my soil less acid? N.W., Bonney Lake
A. First, I do not recommend seeding a new lawn after the middle of October unless you are a gambling gardener and can predict a warm, mild winter. Second, you will score a jackpot anytime you add lime to lawns in Western Washington as our soils are naturally acid due to the high rainfall. It is like doubling down on your bet as adding lime also makes the nutrients in the soil more available to the lawn grasses and lime helps to break up clay soil so it drains more quickly. Lime also discourages moss from taking over the lawn. Add lime to old or new lawns any time of year just not on the same day that you fertilize. Lime is not a fertilizer and will not give instant results but improves the soil gradually over time.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.