🍂Cooling temps; water management; soil preparation; harvesting and pest control in October🌱

Gardening in the high desert during October presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities for garden enthusiasts. Our high desert region, characterized by our high elevation and arid climate, will experience distinct seasonal changes, even in the fall. Here’s a glimpse into what high desert gardening in October might involve and some tips to ensure your success.

Plant Doctor Quips

Moana Lane Plant Doctor, Michael Roth, says, “October is the best month to be adding trees and shrubs into your landscape.  With the cooler temperatures, plants correctly planted, with amended soil and starter fertilizer, will easily acclimate to your existing landscape and will wake up in their new home after winter with all the energy of spring, being able to push out new roots and green growth, and not have to go through the process of being planted getting adjusted to their new home. “

Pyramid Way Plant Doctor, Gary Jentink says, “October is the SpOoOoKy season for all sorts of HoRtIcUlTuRaL HoRrOrS! What’s scarier than Goblins and Ghouls? How about a late October fertilization in the garden, something sure to quickly turn your beloved plant into a ghostly memory. Not scary enough for you? How about hard pruning your woody trees and shrubs, forcing them to grow into the cold and resulting in them looking like absolute monsters with branch dieback and low vigor! The TRICK is to let your plants go into a natural dormancy with as little disturbance as possible, and the TREAT is a healthy flush of growth in the spring next year! Heed my warning, lest you are haunted by these poor gardening decisions during this already scary season.

Our Pyramid Way Plant Doctor, Angela Turner says, “Did you have Squash Bugs this summer? Squash Bugs rarely survive the cold, so exposing them is key. To cut down or eliminate the problem next year, remove all old cucurbit plants (anything in the gourd family) and other debris, including mulch, that’s around the area. Till the soil after harvest to stir up and expose any pests that may be trying to overwinter. You can also throw a clear tarp over the soil which will heat up the soil and kill any remaining insects and weed seedlings.

Our Moana Lane plant doctor, John Bruyn, says, “At the end of October, you should be turning off your irrigation for the season. Water demand for your plants in your yard is at its minimum, so watering deeply once a week is typically all they need. This is also a great time to prepare for winter by draining & storing your hose(s) in a shed or garage and making sure that any sprinklers you may use during the winter are in working order. All this is because mother nature often forgets to sprinkle water on Northern Nevada with precipitation during the winter months and your plants need water even though they are dormant.”   

Our South Virginia Plant Doctor, Steve Packer shares, ” Now is a great time to start a compost pile with the abundance of leaves and yard  waste readily available.  The one thing I do every year before adding to the compost pile is to reduce the size of leaves, twigs etc.  by running it through a leaf shredder or using your lawn mower to mow it into smaller pieces. The smaller it is, the quicker it will transform into compost!”  Be sure to read our article on Composting for more details

South Virginia plant doctor, Jeni Lowery shares, “3 inches of SBC saves 30% water!” Using Soil Building Conditioner as a top dressing helps retain moisture as you taper off  watering for the season. Adding mulch will also protect tender new plantings, retain 30% more moisture, and add beneficial nutrients to the soil below. “Every year I’m encouraged that adding SBC to my soil helps all the beneficial insects and gives my precious shrubs & trees an added blanket for winter.

 October Moana Nursery Timely Tips

General Garden & Lawn Care:

  • Fall is the best time to plant! Plant trees, shrubs, perennials, and spring blooming bulbs (which need to be planted in the fall).
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch. The best thing you can do to prepare and protect your trees and shrubs for winter is to mulch them with a 2 -3” layer of G&B Organics Soil Building Conditioner or walk-on bark, keeping mulch a minimum of 3-6” away from tree trunks.
  • Don’t forget, it is common for Evergreens with needles to shed their interior foliage annually.  As long as the needles are on the inside of the branch (close to the trunk) instead of at the tip of the branch, there is generally nothing to worry about.  If needles are browning and dropping at the tip of branches, there could be a problem; in this instance, bring a branch in to one of our plant doctors for a diagnosis.
  • Continue watering all trees, shrubs, perennials and lawns regularly until the ground freezes, gradually reducing the amount of water provided and lengthening the time between watering. 
  • Core aerate your lawn with Yard Butler Core Aerator if you didn’t do so in the spring or if you have heavy clay soils or areas of compaction.
  • If disease problems have been identified in your lawn or landscape, now may be the best time to treat. Visit a Plant Doctor at any of our stores for specific information, bring samples so that we can best assist you.
  • Treat beds now to prevent weeds Hi-Yield Herbicide Granules Weed and Grass Preventer or organically with Jonathan Green Corn Gluten Weed PreventerLawns can be treated with Hi-Yield Turf & Ornamental Weed & Grass Stopper unless they were recently seeded.
  • Reinvigorate tired lawns with top dressing and over-seeding while daytime temperatures are still mild.
  • Fertilize lawn with G&B Organics Lawn Fertilizer or Fertilome Winterizer for Established Lawns if you haven’t done so yet. 
  • Keep compost pile active by adding layers of green material (grass clippings and frost-killed annuals or perennials) and brown, dried material (fallen leaves, shredded twigs, dried grasses) with small amounts of soil & water. Turn regularly. Keep diseased material out of the pile. Regular additions of Fertilome Compost Maker help accelerate the composting process.
  • Continue to mow lawns at 3-1/2 – 4 inches. Reduce height to 2-1/2” (never shorter) for final mowing before winter.  
  • If transplanting is necessary, wait until trees and shrubs drop their leaves or undergo color change before digging and moving them to new sites.
  • Continue to water newly planted trees and shrubs, especially evergreens, until ground freezes.
  • If plants have not been fertilized this year and demonstrate a need for fertilizer because they have stunted growth, undersized fruit, off- color foliage, failed to fully flower or leaf out, or are recovering from disease or insect attack, apply G&B Organics All Purpose Fertilizer or slow-release Paradise according to the label or less. Do not use a fast-acting fertilizer.
  • Prune dead wood out of trees and shrubs prior to leaf drop, this way if there’s any problems, they can be easily identified.
  • To keep deer from rubbing antlers on tree trunks, spread garden netting or snow fencing around abused trees.
  • Deter rabbits and rodents from over-wintering in your garden by using Plantskydd or Bonide Repels All and cutting down their winter habitats – ornamental grasses (except pampas grass) and perennials – instead of leaving them tall for winter interest.
  • Wrap columnar evergreens such as arborvitaes, columnar pines, and spruces with green ties to prevent damage during the winter from heavy snow accumulations.
  • Refresh flower beds and containers with cool-season favorites such as pansies, ornamental cabbage & kale, mums, sedums, ornamental grasses and fall-blooming asters.
  • Begin to plant spring blooming bulbs; be sure to add G&B Organics Bud & Bloom Fertilizer water well and mulch with G&B Organics Soil Building Conditioner after planting.
  • Allow certain dried flower heads to remain standing for fall and winter interest and as an attraction for birds — sunflowers, astilbe, coneflower, cosmos, and anything with an appreciable bloom.
  • Divide daylilies, peonies & iris; transplant while soil is still warm.
  • Harvest seed from non-hybridized flowering perennials.
  • Remove annual plant material from garden & containers and add to the compost pile.
  • For easier spring clean-up, cut back the following plants that don’t look very attractive after frost when their leaves and stems have lost all green color:  bearded iris, peonies, bee balm, blanket flower, catmint, columbine, crocosmia, daylilies, phlox paniculata, salvia nemorosa, veronica, yarrow and wild indigo (baptisia).
  • Clean and sterilize containers before storing over winter.


  • Harvest pumpkins before frost, frost will kill them.
  • If hard frost threatens, pick all tomatoes and (if they’re not ripe yet) store in cardboard boxes or paper bags in cool, dry place. Bonus Tip: Make fried green tomatoes with your green tomatoes instead of storing them for later.
  • Frost protection in the fall can be challenging – but Bosmere Kozy Coats can help. Just open the tubes and add water, place the the filled teepees over your seedlings, young plants or vegetable crops. The Kozy Coat becomes an igloo, keeping in the heat and warmth from the soil.
  • Harvest watermelons the second week of October – or right before a killing frost.  The warm days and cool nights will increase their sweetness.
  • Allow collards, kale and Brussels sprouts to be hit with frost before harvesting to improve their flavor. 
  • Plant garlic and onion bulbs for spring harvest.
  • After a hard frost, remove previously healthy dead plant material from the vegetable garden and add it to the compost pile.  Any diseased foliage or weed seeds should be discarded.
  • Till 1 to 2 inches of G&B Organics Compost into garden soil.
  • Force amaryllis and paperwhite bulbs for Christmas.
  • Tender plants like mandevilla, coleus, jasmine, citrus, gardenia, should be brought inside to overwinter in a sunny window before the first light frost.  Treat all plants with Bonide Insecticidal Soap, Bonide All Seasons Oil as a minimum precaution.
  • Use Hi-Yield Systemic Granules and/or Fertilome Triple Action to prevent insects from coming indoors. Consider repotting and changing soil at this time. Do not change the size of the pot until spring.
  • Quarantine & monitor houseplants that summered outside, watch for any sign of insects or disease.  Discard seriously infected or diseased plants – do not compost. After about 2 weeks of quarantine plants can be moved to normal locations, if no sign of pests or disease. Spider mites & powdery mildew are extremely contagious, so be on the lookout!
  • Goldfinches are returning to backyard feeders in full force. In summer they may seem scarce as they nest later and molt later than many other birds, but be sure to re-invite this social, entertaining bird to your yard by putting out a fresh supply of the seeds they love, like Nyjer®, Finch Blend, or sunflower chips.
  • Many birds will be finishing their main molt (replacement of their feathers) which requires extra protein to grow strong feathers for proper flight and effective insulation. Continue to offer high-protein, high-fat bird foods, such as Nyjer®, peanuts, black oil sunflower, sunflower chips, Jim’s Birdacious Bark Butter® and mealworms. 
  • Put out suet, Bark Butter Bits and mealworms to attract insect-eating birds, such as flickers and woodpeckers, which are beginning to arrive to spend the winter here. 
  • Ground-feeding birds are also arriving for the winter; now is a good time to add a Wild Bird or Quail Block to your yard
  • Black bears are a potential problem this time of year for backyard bird feeders.  Now through mid-December, bears will forage for food up to 20 hours a day to store enough fat to sustain them through hibernation.  To deter them from gaining an easy meal and still feed your feathered friends, consider doing the following:
  • Clean up seed that has fallen to the ground as much as possible; attach seed trays to your feeders to make this easier.
  • Use ammonia on ground and around your feeders to deter bears.
  • Consider only putting out Nyjer® as bears are less likely to be attracted to it versus other nut blends. 
  • When bear activity has been noted in your area, bring feeders in at night.
  • Just like the black bears, many birds are focused on ‘storing up’ for cold months ahead, but they can’t store reserves on their bodies like the bears. Instead, some species like chickadees, nuthatches, jays, and titmice, practice caching and scatter hoarding. Offer whole peanuts or black oil sunflower seeds to observe this fascinating behavior!
  • Ensure that the seed you offer stays fresh and dry by installing appropriate weather protection against any expected weather.
  • Hummers are pretty well gone now except for some Annas that have been known to stay through the winter.  If you continue to put out nectar during the winter months, placing a source of low heat like Christmas lights next to your feeder can keep it from freezing, or easier still, use a hummingbird feeder heater meant specifically for this purpose, or have feeders that you can switch out readily – our 4 ounce High Perch feeder is ideal.
  • Continue to offer a clean, fresh source of water for birds. As nights get colder, consider a birdbath heater or heated birdbath to provide a consistent source of water.
  • To prevent the chance of disease, clean birdbath weekly with a weak bleach solution 
  • (1-part bleach to 9 parts water). Rinse well. 
  • Install a customized Wild Birds Unlimited bird feeding station where you can easily watch the birds it attracts.  It can be installed in the ground, on a patio or on a deck.        

Schedule Irrigation Services Now
Irrigation system repairs and tune-ups
Irrigation system turn off for winter – schedule now for the end of October – November
Irrigation backflow testing & certification with test results submitted to Truckee Meadows Water Authority
Call (775) 825-0602 x134 or email us to schedule a consultation

Feederscape Consultation
If you want our expert help setting up a feeding station at your home or business schedule a consultation today. Our Bird Nerd will help you make your landscape a refuge for birds and humans alike. 

  • Our Seasonal Color Team can help you with custom containers, annual planting beds or a simple refresh of your existing garden. Schedule a free consultation today! 
  • Need help with your indoor plants? Contact our Interior Plant Services team. They can help you design, install, and maintain your indoor plants! Want a WOW plant presentation? Ask about installing a LIVING PLANT WALL! Examples of plant walls are available to see at both our Moana Lane and Pyramid Way locations.
  • Our expert Plant Doctors can help you with your high desert gardening;
    Diagnose disease & insect problems on trees, shrubs & lawns;
    Identify existing plants in your landscape and how to care for them;
    Provide plant placement for DIY customers.

Moana Lane Store
Jon Bruyn
Michael Roth

Pyramid Way Store
Angela Turner
Gary Jentink

South Virginia Street Store
Steve Packer
Jennifer Lowery