Monthly Planting Guidelines
This calendar’s monthly planting guidelines are based on USDA zone 9, but they are adaptable to most zones. To find your zone, go to the National Gardening Association’s website. If your zone is 7, 8, or 9, you can safely use this guide. If your zone is 4, 5, or 6, then add a month before beginning your spring tasks and start your fall tasks a month earlier. If your zone is 10 or 11, subtract a month to your spring tasks. Your fall and winter tasks should remain the same as the original guide if you are in zones 10 or 11. These are all general guidelines. Your specific microclimate, which depends on the distance to a large body of water (like gigantic lakes or oceans) and elevation, will make your zone fluctuate. Consult your local county extension office to get more detailed zone and planting guide information.
Tasks for October:
- Harvest the last tomatoes of the season
- Season analysis—what worked, what didn’t
- Make list of winter tasks
- Keep eye on weather reports for predicted frosts
- Extend the season by plastic topper or FRC
Harvest the last tomatoes of the season
Even if the weather in your area is favorable for gardening, now is the time for the last tomato harvest. Enjoy the fruit and remember the taste of fresh, juicy, and sweet tomatoes! You will have to wait until next season to try them again. Don’t forget to preserve them and save their flavor in jars for the winter.
Since things are winding down in the garden, now is a good time to walk the garden with a notebook and your camera. Record what worked and what didn’t work. Which were your favorite varieties and why? Which ones were the first to give you ripe fruit? Which tasted the best? Which ones produced the most fruit? Analyze the difference in production (and even taste) between tomatoes grown in the ground versus grown in pots. Did the potted tomatoes do well? If not, try to figure out why. Was it the size of the pot? Not enough fertility? No shading of the black plastic pot? Will you grow in a pot again next season?
Look at how the shade has changed in your garden since mid-summer. Notice longer shadows and where those shadows land. Have they been shading your tomato patches as the days shortened after the summer solstice? Could this have affected your tomato production? Did you not account for how tall the plants were going to get and how they shaded others?
How did your staking work out? Did you make and use proper tall cages? Do you need to up your game there to increase production next year?
Note the beds that gave you poor production or diseased plants. Were these beds different than other beds? Have you been fertilizing (spraying) with worm casting tea and aspirin spray? Did you plant with amendments? Which ones? Were they enough? What will you change for next season?
Don’t forget to take lots of photos of both your triumphs and your problems and share them with the World Tomato Society, which loves looking at beautiful photos of tomatoes, gardens, and you enjoying them. But it can also help you with your trials and issues. And taking photos of what doesn’t work for you is a reminder not to repeat the past.
Didn’t like the taste of one of your varieties? Don’t grow it again! Didn’t get enough production off your Early Girl as promised and you did everything right? Grow a newer, higher-yielding hybrid next year.
Follow the six “S’s,” which are basic cultivation tips. Have you done these this season?:
- Sunlight: Six or more hours are needed for beefsteaks.
- Soil: Feed it, cover crop it, keep it weed-free, mulch it.
- Staking: Indeterminates need a big, tall, strong cage.
- Spacing: Plants need space from other plants (two feet minimum).
- Spraying: Use a mix of worm casting tea and aspirin for max yield.
- Searching: Be vigilant about pests, diseases, and answers for your tomato
- issues. Never give up!
Make a list of winter tasks
Now that you’ve got your analysis done, take some time to sit down to create to-do lists for the rest of fall and winter. Peek ahead in these calendar guides for the next several months to see if you’ll be able to keep up with what’s recommended and what you’ll need to help you with those tasks.
Keep an eye on weather reports for predicted frosts
Some of you live in areas where you’ll get a frost or heavy storm in October. If you aren’t in the habit of checking your weather forecast, now is the time to start. If you see any indication of a frost or intense or cold store, go out and remove all the fruit from your plants. Put them in a single layer in trays and bring them into a damp-free interior, such as your laundry room, garage, or kitchen table. They will slowly ripen, even if picked green. Do not put them in direct sunlight or in a greenhouse, where it can get too hot for them to ripen properly.
Extend your season with a row cover and plastic
Even if you don’t have a season-ending frost or hard cold rain, consider extending your season. If you wrap your cages with a floating row cover (this is the lightest-weight frost blanket) or put a cap of plastic on top of your tomatoes, you may get more rapid late-season ripening than if you had done nothing.
If you make a plastic cap, don’t enclose the entire bed or whole tomato plant. It will heat it up and destroy it on a sunny day. A plastic cap is placed only above the bed with plenty of airflows underneath it. You can create one using very long three-quarters-of-an-inch PVC bent in a tall “U” shape over the bed in several locations. Push the ends of the PVC onto short rebar stakes pounded in around the exterior perimeter of your bed. Then pin some greenhouse-grade, UV-resistant plastic to the top and upper half of your tomatoes. If using seven-foot-tall tomato cages, get 20-foot-long PVC for this task: seven feet up on each side, plus four or five feet wide in the middle, spanning the bed should just about do it. Three per each 10- or 12-foot-long bed should suffice. Cut the PVC if, after you force it into a very tall “U” shape, it’s above the plants too much. PVC is easily cut using a hacksaw or inexpensive plastic pipe cutter. Attach the plastic to the PVC using “snap clamps,” available at greenhouse supply stores online.