40th anniversary logo for 2020
October Tips & Events for Santa Clara County
“My favorite color is October.
~Author unknown
Reminder: Wildfire Effects
If you haven’t already read last month’s tip regarding the effects of wildfires on our gardens, you can find it on our website. Be sure to wash all produce if you think it could be affected by smoke or ash. It’s also a good idea to rinse residue off the leaves of affected plants with plain water to help the plants with photosynthesis and respiration. 
Protecting Soil
It’s not a good idea to leave soil bare. Bare soil can erode during a rainy winter. It can dry out and not support the beneficial organisms that live in the soil. Or it can be taken over by weeds. Covering it with mulch will hold in moisture, moderate soil temperature, and help prevent germination of weed seeds. If the mulch is organic material (not rocks or plastic) it will slowly break down over time and feed the soil and the good life that lives in the soil. Another way to keep the soil healthy is by planting cover crops. Examples of these are fava beans, vetch, or clover. These will keep the soil from becoming barren and will add vital nutrients. Beans and other members of the legume family fix nitrogen from the air and make it available in the soil and later to plants. The roots also break up heavy clay soil and improve its structure. Before they go to seed, you can chop up the plants and dig them into the soil or you can put them into the compost bin.

Photo: Mulch, UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Green Blog
Garden Cleanup
It’s an excellent idea to keep the garden clean at all times and to remove dead or diseased material as it appears. Yet there may be bigger seasonal cleanups when taking out crops that have finished producing or that need to be removed to make room for new plants. While you can sometimes leave disease-free material on the ground as mulch, you should remove any other parts so as not to allow insects and diseases to overwinter and then reproduce. In particular, always pick up fruit promptly from the ground so as not to invite critters or to allow diseases to proliferate. Only plant parts that are free of pests or diseases are safe to add to the compost pile unless you can be sure of keeping your pile very hot. Monitor the health of your plants while you're out cleaning up. Keep in mind that this may be more fun to do before the rainy season starts.

Photo: Fallen leaves
 Photo by Adel Kader
Unusual Greens
So many salad greens are available beyond the iceberg lettuce you find at the supermarket. They may seem exotic to you only because they have not previously been part of your culinary experience. Other people may already have discovered them or been raised with them. This could be a good time to experiment. Collards are big in southern cooking. Mache are small greens with a nutty flavor. Giant red mustard gives a horseradish flavor to sandwiches. Bok choi is good in salads or stir fries. Arugula has a peppery bite and reseeds itself prolifically. And chicory is used in New Orleans coffee. Many of these greens are hard to find in stores or can be on the expensive side. And what can be safer than “shopping” in your own backyard. There’s still time to get all of these in the ground. They can be started from seeds or transplants. Protect them from pests when young and tender. Some methods are to start them in pots and wait to put them in the ground until they are a little bigger and stronger, or put row covers over them as they get started. 

More Information: Growing Salad Greens

Photo: Radicchio is a type of chicory, by Adel Kader
Athletic field turf
Photo by M. Ari Haravandi
Lawn care in the cool season is different from in the summer. Perhaps the most important task in our area is to adjust the irrigation. Now that we have cooler weather, shorter days, and the possibility of rain, grass needs less water. You ought to adjust the irrigation schedule monthly based on the weather. Even better, get a smart controller that, once programmed, automatically adjusts for the conditions. You can remove dead grass material on the soil surface with a special thatch rake. While thatch material can provide some benefits, too much can cause problems such as impeding the passage of water. Let that rain get into the ground where the roots are. It’s okay to fertilize one last time if the grass is still actively growing.  

More Information: The UC Guide to Healthy Lawns

Photo: Athletic field turf, by M. Ari Haravandi
The fall is a good time to add shrubs to your yard. They are perennial and most require little maintenance. California natives are particularly low-maintenance plants. If they go in the ground now, the new plants will have time to establish strong root systems and soak up the winter rains before being stressed with the strong summer sun. All plants need special care until they are well established. After a year or two they can better handle the dry heat and probably less regular water. When choosing a plant, the most important considerations are the conditions of the site (soil, sun, wind, moisture) and the purpose of the plant (beauty, shade, privacy, food.) Then make sure you know the eventual size of the plant (width first, then height) to make sure there is adequate space for it. That helps narrow down your selection, and then you can choose whatever looks or smells pretty to you or to whatever you might be trying to attract to your garden.

Photo: Ceanothus sp., by Jack Kelly Clark
Upcoming Events
We're still mostly offering online events, but we're starting to open our gardens to visitors. We hope to see some of you there! Keep an eye on our events page for the latest schedule.

Thu, Oct 08, 7:00 p.m.–8:30 p.m., ONLINE Low Water Ornamentals From Around the World

Sat, Oct 10, 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m., Palo Alto Demonstration Garden Open!, Eleanor Pardee Park, 851 Center Drive, Palo Alto

Wed, Oct 14, 7:00 p.m.–8:30 p.m., ONLINE Fall and Winter Fruit Tree Care

Sat, Oct 17, 7:00 p.m.–8:30 p.m., ONLINE (In Chinese) Seed Saving and Seed Starting

Sun, Oct 18, 9:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m., Open Garden Sunday!, Martial Cottle Park, 351 Chynoweth Avenue, San Jose 

Thu, Oct 22, 6:00 p.m.–7:30 p.m., ONLINE Reuse Graywater and Rainwater in Your Yard

Sat, Oct 24, 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m., Palo Alto Demonstration Garden Open!, Eleanor Pardee Park, 851 Center Drive, Palo Alto

Thu, Oct 29, 4:00 p.m.–5:30 p.m., ONLINE Improving Garden Soil Fertility in Fall and Winter
Visit the our website for additional gardening information including an up-to-date list of events and classes.

Have a gardening question? Contact our Help Desk (for Santa Clara County residents). Start by reviewing our plant problem diagnosis tips and then:

The University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Santa Clara County Master Gardener Program volunteers are trained under the auspices of the UCCE. Our mission is to promote sustainable gardening practices by providing up-to-date, research-based horticultural information to home gardeners.

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