University of Maryland Extension

October Tips & Tasks

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normal fall color on pines
Normal fall needle yellowing on white pine

Outdoor Yard and Garden Tips

  • Flower buds are forming or are already formed on spring flowering shrubs. To prevent reducing next year’s bloom, don’t prune spring-flowering shrubs like azaleas and rhododendrons until after they bloom next spring.

  • Nursery stock trees and shrubs can be planted until the ground freezes. Carefully examine trees and shrubs prior to purchase to assess quality. With balled and burlap stock cut the twine around the ball and cut away the nylon or burlap wrapping.

  • Never carry a tree by its trunk, this can damage the roots. Instead, always carry them by their root ball or by the container.
  • Fall coloration on white pines happens every fall but in some years it is more noticeable. The inner needles yellow and drop off. This can also occur on rhododendrons and other evergreen shrubs. This is normal for this time of year. 

  • In the cooler, sometimes wetter fall weather harmless toadstools and other mushrooms may be plentiful around tree root systems. However, destructive wood rotting organisms produce conks on tree trunks. Affected trees may be suffering from extensive wood decay and should be inspected for trunk soundness by a licensed arborist.

  • Save the seed from annual flowering plants like cleome, zinnias, cosmos, celosia, and butterfly weed to be planted next spring.

  • Geraniums can be overwintered in several ways. Entire plants can be brought inside and grown in a sunny window, or cuttings can be taken from existing plants. Cuttings from other annuals like begonias, salvias, and coleus also root well.

  • Daffodil bulbs, alliums and other spring-flowering bulbs can be planted now. Plant them in a sunny spot, in well-drained soil. Tulip bulbs should be planted from mid-October through November to prevent them from sprouting prematurely. 

  • Stop feeding your fish in outdoor ponds. They cannot metabolize food easily during cold weather.

  • Discard badly-diseased plants and fruits; don’t till them back into the soil. All other plant waste can be composted.

  • Carrots can be over-wintered in the garden by covering the bed with a deep straw or leaf mulch. Pull carrots through the winter as needed.

  • Lettuce, spinach, arugula, and kale can be planted through the middle of the month. Cover these late plantings with a cold frame, temporary greenhouse, or floating row cover. Be sure to fertilize seedbeds, keep the soil moist, and protect seedlings from pests. The young plants will go dormant and re-grow in spring.

  • Black rat snakes may still be hatching in October. These harmless baby snakes are not black at hatching but are a light gray with dark brown rectangular markings down the back.



  • Start a compost pile by mixing together spent plants, kitchen scraps, fallen leaves, old mulch, and grass clippings. Shred your materials with a lawnmower, string trimmer, or machete to speed-up the breakdown process. Keep twigs, branches, and other woody materials out of the pile.

  • Feeding deer is not recommended. The practice upsets the size of the local herd, increases their tendency to become pests, and may contribute to the spread of disease within their population.

Indoor Plant and Insect Tips

wolf spider closeup
Wolf spider
Photo: Lesley Ingram, Bugwood.org

  • Many different spiders like jumping spiders, yellow house spiders, wolf spiders may enter homes. They can wander indoors through or around windows, doors, and cracks. Caulk cracks and tighten up around doors and windows, especially those at ground level. Most spiders are shy and harmless to humans. Normally, they will not attempt to bite unless accidentally trapped or held. They are beneficial by feeding on nuisance insects. Killing of spiders should be avoided, if possible.

  • Drain flies are found primarily in rooms or areas where there are drains such as kitchens, basements near floor drains, etc. Drain flies are small, 1/16 to 1/4 inch long, delicate and fuzzy. Their fuzzy wings make them easy to identify. 

  • Inspect new houseplants before purchase. Choose plants that appear to be free of insects and disease, have new leaf or flower buds, and healthy foliage. Slipping the plant out of its container to look at the roots is recommended. Roots should be white or tan, fleshy (not brown and crumbly), be able to hold the soil together but not root-bound. 

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