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Harvesting Pumpkins
and Other October Gardening Tips

By Charlie Nardozzi, Horticulturist and
Leonard Perry, UVM Extension Horticulturist

Harvesting winter squash and pumpkins, moving peonies, and shredding
leaves are some of the gardening activities for this month.

How to Harvest Pumpkins

You can harvest winter squash and pumpkins any time they're mature -- that is,
when the rinds are too tough to puncture with a thumbnail. Some gardeners
wait until a light frost kills back the vines, to allow the squash as much time as
possible to mature.

To harvest, use a knife to cut the stem an inch or two above the squash or
pumpkin.  If you didn’t grow any pumpkins this year, visit a local grower or
roadside stand.  Use them for decorating, plain or painted, carved, and for
cooking pies and roasting seeds.

Peony Problems

If your peony isn't blooming, or it is too large or misplaced, consider moving it
now.  If it didn’t bloom, perhaps it is just planted too deep, and removing some
soil from around the plant is all that is needed.  Planting depth and location are
critical. Plant in full sun on well-drained soil. Place the buds, or "eyes" on the
roots just 2 inches below the soil surface. Any deeper, and the plants may fail to
bloom. Even with proper planting, transplanted peonies may not bloom for a
few years.

Shred Fall Leaves

Fall leaves are both a blessing and a curse. If a thick layer is left on the lawn,
they can mat down and suffocate the grass underneath. However, by shredding
them (with a shredder or by running over them with a lawn mover) and leaving
them on the lawn, they will feed the grass.  Many gardeners swear by shredded
leaves as a mulch in their gardens.  Since shredded leaves are difficult to rake,
you may want to invest in a chipper/shredder for garden debris.  This can be
used to turn twigs into compostable materials too.

Do Fall Weeding

Any fall weeding you do will reduce your weeding chores in the spring. Pull
weeds before they set seed if they haven’t already, and you eliminate the task of
pulling all those little seedlings. A single weed plant may set hundreds, or
even thousands, of seeds, so don't delay. Remove tough perennial weeds such
as dandelion and burdock by digging out their roots.  Fall weeding is
rewarding as the weeds wont grow back this season, as they do during the

Test Your Soil's pH

Fall is a good time to test your soil's pH or acidity.  This is crucial to making
nutrients available to plants.  By adding any necessary amendments now,
they'll have time to break down over the winter since they tend to be slow
acting.  Extension Service offices do soil tests for a nominal fee, and the test
results include recommendations for improving the soil. Most plants prefer a
slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.5 to 6.8 (a pH of 7 is neutral). New England
soils tend to be acidic and require the addition of lime to "sweeten" the soil, or
raise the pH.

Dig Up Bulbs

As soon as frost kills back the tops of tender, summer-flowering bulbs, such as
dahlias, gladiola, and tuberous begonias, it's time to dig the bulbs to store
indoors over the winter. Gently brush the soil from the bulbs, allow them to dry
for day or two, then set them in dry peat moss or vermiculite and store them in
a cool (40 to 50 degrees F), non-freezing, dark place.  Don’t hold dahlias too
long before storing, or they’ll begin to dry out and shrivel.

Now, too, is the time to plant spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips and

(Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening consultant,
and garden coach (