Learn in this easy October Michigan Gardening Checklist precisely what to do before the ground starts freezing! Prepare your Midwest garden and your yard for a successful spring!

Easy October Michigan Gardening Checklist

  1. Dig up and store tender bulbs
  2. Plant spring bulbs
  3. Fall sow perennial or wildflower seeds
  4. Plant garlic
  5. Don’t prune spring-flowering bushes
  6. Transplant trees or bushes
  7. Don’t deadhead flowers
  8. Remove diseased plants or leaves
  9. Harvest fall vegetables
  10. Don’t rake the leaves
  11. Put away hanging baskets
  12. Clean gardening tools
  13. Add soil amendments if needed
  14. Empty birdbaths/Add heated

October is still a busy month for us gardeners and nature lovers! Especially when we have those warmer falls, the urge to continue our passion is alive and well!

There seems to be a more relaxed tone, though, as we prepare our gardens and minds for the cold winter months.

You can do some simple things to put your flower beds and gardens to rest for the winter, while at the same time silently prepping them for spring. Let’s dive into October Michigan gardening and start checking things off!

1. Dig up and store tender bulbs

October Michigan gardening checklist 2020 dig up and store tender bulbs

What are tender bulbs? Basically, any bulb that won’t make it through our cold winter months, but can survive in a cool, dark, dry area.

The following are considered tender bulbs:

  • Canna Lily: Hardy to zone 7
  • Gladiolus: Hardy to zone 8
  • Tuberous Begonia: Hardy to zone 10
  • Amaryllis: Hardy to zone 9
  • Dahlia: Hardy to zone 8
  • Calla Lily: Hardy to zone 7
  • Windflower: Hardy to zone 6
  • Elephant Ear: Hardy to zone 9
  • Caladium: Hardy to zone 9
  • Acidanthera: Hardy to zone 7

As with any list, I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones that come to mind.

The rule of thumb is to dig them up after the first big frost.

2. Plant spring bulbs

October Michigan gardening checklist 2020 plant spring bulbs

Who doesn’t love those early spring flowers that pop out of the ground, often even before the snow stops?

Those beauties can be planted now. The list includes:

  • Grape Hyacinth
  • Tulip
  • Daffodil
  • Snowflake (Leucojum)
  • Allium
  • Crocus
  • Hyacinth
  • Starflower
  • Dwarf Iris
  • Scilla
  • Snowdrop

The rule of thumb is to plant 2-3 times as deep as the bulb is tall.

Also, don’t cover the bulbs in mulch just yet, or it may attract animals. Wait until the ground freezes. You can also place chicken wire over the area.

Kind of exciting that October Michigan gardening still includes planting something beautiful!

3. Fall-sow perennial or wildflower seeds

October Michigan gardening checklist 2020 fall sow perennial or wildflower seeds

Suppose you want to add some wildflowers for beauty and help bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. In that case, you can sow the seeds now.

This includes any perennial seeds that you may want to start.

If harvesting the seeds, storing them, and starting seeds pre-spring isn’t your jam, just let nature do its thing.

Just note where you sow them, so you don’t accidentally pull them up like weeds in the spring. (Yes, I’ve done this!)

4. Plant garlic

October Michigan gardening includes planting garlic! My husband started doing this a couple of years ago; it’s easy.

Garlic is a small bulb, so you plant it the same way you would any other bulb. Pointy side up, flat or fat side down, as this is where the roots come from.

Plant the bulbs about 4-6″ apart, as the bulbs multiply. Also, make sure you don’t plant them where last year’s garlic or onions were. You won’t want them in a wet area, either.

Garlic is a member of the allium family and can be easily harvested in the summer.

5. Don’t prune spring-flowering bushes

October Michigan gardening checklist 2020 don't prune spring-flowering bushes

Bushes that flower before mid-June should not be part of your October Michigan gardening checklist.

If pruned now, you will remove all of the buds.

Spring-flowering bushes have buds that develop in the “old wood” during the last growing season.

Instead, prune them after they flower. Just make sure you don’t disturb any nesting birds, especially the hummingbird’s small nests, which are nearly impossible to see.

6. Transplant trees or bushes

October Michigan gardening checklist 2020 transplant trees or bushes

If you have any trees, bushes, or roses that you want to be moved, now is a good time (or early spring).

If the tree or bush needs trimming, do it before you transplant.

Remember that the bigger the plant, the more you’ll have to dig around it. You want to make sure you disturb the roots as little as possible.

Some trees can have a long taproot, so try to take as much of that as possible. The more soil you take from the present location, the less damage you’ll have to tender roots.

Do not shake off access soil; take that with the plant so as not to disturb it.

Dig the hole twice as big as the root system and try to add compost or soil amendments at this time.

The tree or bush should be planted at the exact same depth as previously. No mulch or soil up around the trunk – this suffocates it.

After the hole is filled, lightly tap down around the plant and thoroughly water.

7. Don’t deadhead flowers

October Michigan gardening checklist 2020 don't deadhead flowers

Please take deadheading flowers off of your October Michigan gardening list!

The birds rely on the seeds leftover on these spent flowers and will readily eat them up during the cold winter. Especially when it’s hard for them to find food.

Also, tiny insects will hide out in the spend flowers and inside of dried seed pods, so that also provides a hiding place for them and more food for the birds.

You can deadhead your flowers and get rid of dead perennials in mid-April. 🙂

Shop Fall Color Trees

8. Remove diseased plants or leaves

Assuming you’ve been removing diseased plants and leaves all season long, double-check to make sure there aren’t any left.

This includes any mildews, viruses, aphid infestations, or bacterias. Do not compost diseased plants or leaves. I don’t burn them either as sometimes spores can spread that way. I just throw them in a plastic garbage bag.

9. Harvest fall vegetables

October Michigan gardening checklist 2020 harvest fall vegetables

October Michigan gardening is harvest time for pumpkins, squash, sweet potatoes, and gourds!

Now is the time to bring those in, and other cool-weather vegetables you planted that are sensitive to frost.

You might want to leave your Brussels sprouts, though, as they sweeten up after a frost.

Although I strongly encourage gardeners to leave all of their non-diseased plants and flowers until mid-April, I remove all spent vegetation from my vegetable garden.

10. Don’t rake the leaves

October Michigan gardening checklist 2020 don't rake the leaves

Please, as part of your October Michigan gardening, please take raking leaves off of the checklist!

Leaving the leaves where they may fall benefits wildlife tremendously! Not to mention your flowers, gardens, and yard!

If you live in an area that doesn’t allow this, or you just can’t stand it (I do hope you change your mind!), then rake them into flower beds and gardens, or into a pile in the corner of your yard.

Many beneficial insects and pollinators use fallen leaves to overwinter. They need all of the help they can get!

You’d be surprised how quickly the leaves seem to disappear once spring grass starts growing! You’ll also be surprised how great your lawn will start looking.

11. Put away hanging baskets

If you’re anything like me, you’ll leave those half-way decent looking flowers hanging up as long as you can.

It becomes easy to forget, though, and you may end up with cracked baskets that you planned on saving for next year.

If I don’t dump my baskets before the weather starts freezing, I leave them in the garage until spring. Many worms and beneficial insects are already hiding out in them.

12. Clean gardening tools

October Michigan gardening checklist 2020 clean gardening tools

Diseases and other harmful bacteria or fungus can stay on gardening tools over the winter.

It’s a good idea to clean them up to prevent cross-contamination.

I’m all about ease when it comes to cleaning, so I simply rinse off the excess soil and dip the tools in a bucket of bleach water for about 10 minutes.

I use about two cups of bleach per one gallon of water.

Rinse, allow to dry and put away till next year.

This task is easy to forget, which is why I add it to my October Michigan gardening chore list. I’m pretty sure I won’t be digging anymore once Halloween is over!

13. Add soil amendments if needed

This is often done in the spring, but if done as part of your October Michigan gardening to-do list, it has all winter to “work.”

Have you tested your soil? If you have, you can adjust your pH level by adding sulfur to lower it, or lime to raise it. Both need time to work. Which is why fall is a perfect time to add them.

You can also add compost or organic material to your soil before it freezes. A layer of natural mulch on top is a great addition, especially if we have a cold Michigan winter!

14. Empty birdbaths/Add heated

October Michigan gardening checklist 2020 empty birdbaths add heated

I have my grandparents’ old cement birdbath. I remember this birdbath from when I was a young girl.

I would be heartbroken if this cracked! Although I know you can seal a cracked birdbath, I prefer to empty the water out before this happens.

Therefore, this is a must-do chore as part of my October Michigan gardening to-do list!

All I do it lay the bowl on its side against the pedestal, bowl side inward. This prevents cracking and breaking.

You’ll want to remove the plastic ones as well, as they will also crack and break under frozen water.

A good thing to do for your birds is to add a heated birdbath. I love mine! I bought it years ago, and it still works perfectly to this day.

It only heats to a specific temperature and automatically shuts off when it’s not needed.

Contrary to any negative beliefs about a heated birdbath, it’s perfectly safe not only for you but also for your birds.

They will appreciate and come to rely on your little heated birdbath when our temperatures plummet far below freezing!

Tip: Unplug your birdbath in the spring when temperatures at night are steady above freezing and leave it there year-round.


Do you have any other chores as part of your October Michigan gardening checklist? Please do leave them in the comment section below! 🙂

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