Q. I’d like to change some of my garden planting. Is October a good month to transplant? Mary Frey, San Luis Obispo
A. Yes, fall — October (into November in the South County) — is prime time for transplanting or putting new plants in the ground. The soil temperature is still warm, yet the winter rains are hopefully right around the corner. This is a perfect time to plant drought-tolerant plants and let them get established over the winter. Perhaps you can divide clumps of perennials to fill in bare spaces in the garden. You can divide Asters, daylilies, Rudbeckia, Gaillardia and shasta daisies, for example, and also continue dividing iris. Perennials should be in the ground for several weeks to establish root systems before cold weather, so consider your microclimate as you schedule planting.
To add color, cool-season flowers can go into your beds — for example, Dianthus, violets, snapdragons, and sweet peas for early spring bloom.
You can also plant bulbs now: South African bulbs such as Babiana, Nerine and Crocosmia can go in early in the month. Spring flowering bulbs like daffodils can be planted when the ground has cooled, well into November in most areas. Dutch iris bulbs, Cyclamen corms and Ranunculus tubers can be planted, too.
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If you are purchasing plants, consider California natives that are adapted to local conditions. Natives and Mediterranean plants can help you save water.
Other chores in the October garden include fertilizing fruit trees; beginning control of weeds (and slugs and snails) that reappear in cool weather; and reprogramming watering systems for fall. Give Azaleas, Camellias and Rhododendrons their last feeding of the year. They are setting buds now, so make sure they don’t dry out. Cool-season lawns can be fertilized in October and new cool-season lawns planted. In the vegetable garden, this is a good time to plant cool season leafy greens: lettuce, mesclun, and arugula will give tasty winter salads.
Local master gardeners will be able to give you more detailed information about which perennials to divide and how to plant.