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For a good many gardeners, October spells the end of a busy season of weeding and watering, harvesting and preserving. For others, it's just the opposite — not the end, but the beginning of a new season for nurturing cool-season edibles and winter blooming ornamentals.

However you garden as our winter rains set in, you likely have a to-do list before storms unleash their fury and the ground turns too soggy to work.

One of the most important to-do tasks for anyone seeking a specialty fruit tree is placing an early order at your local nursery. One of the best resources is Urban Tree Farm in northwest Santa Rosa. Their deadline is Nov. 12.

Although bare-root fruit trees are readily available in January and February from nearly all nurseries and garden centers, finding a certain special one is often impossible unless it's ordered early.

Urban Tree Farm places orders with Dave Wilson Nursery, a huge wholesale supplier that has introduced many outstanding fruit tree varieties. Pre-payment is required for trees that you pick up in January.

As always, prior to purchase, be sure to note whether or not a pollinizer is needed, a condition that often limits the selection for backyard gardens. On the urbantreefarm.com website, details are given in the fruit tree catalog. Fuji apple, for example, is self-fruitful whereas Green and Red Gravensteins are not.

If you've had experience with fruit trees, you may already know that apples, peaches, pears and plums are well suited to all of our microclimates except those directly on the coast, where conditions are less than ideal. But apricots, many pluots, and cherries tend to be more temperamental, disease-prone, and short-lived than they are in the Central Valley where they're grown commercially.

<IP0>Planting window

<MC><CW-26>Tradition says that garlic is planted on the shortest day of the year, Dec. 21, and harvested on the longest day of the year, June 21. That deadline is still 2 months away, but you may want to jump-start the process</CW>.

Our mild temperatures allow for very late planting, whereas frozen ground in eastern climes demands that it go in the ground in September or October. Nonetheless, many gardeners in the North Bay like to plant garlic in October or November before the ground is too wet to work.

During winter's short days, the bulbs sprout and roots develop. Then as days lengthen in spring, new bulbs form and enlarge.

<CW-28>Besides timing the planting and harvesting, the most important factor in growing garlic is good drainage. If your soil is heavy, mix in compost before planting and form rows of slightly mounded soil. Plant cloves pointed-end up about an inch deep and about 6 inches apart. After winter rains end, irrigate soil to keep it evenly moist.

<IP0>More deadlines

<MC>Drop into your neighborhood nursery or make a special trip to those where plant sales continue through this last weekend of October. I've found incredible bargains at several retailers.

Some of the best have been at Bennett Valley Nursery at the corner of Bethards and Yulupa where plants are 30 percent off retail price. Nurseries at this location have struggled for years, but the current owners seem to have found a niche and are stocking many species not often encountered.

I came across the delicate Abutilon Savitzii, a compact shrub noted for its creamy white, maple-like leaves lightly suffused with pale green. It's a standout where a bright spot is needed in shade.

[SUBHEAD_RAG_]<IP0>Plant natives

<MC>Though it isn't strictly a deadline, November is about as late as we can plant California natives and expect them to become established by next summer. Soil is still warm enough to stimulate root growth and expansion, essential for survival during our dry season.

Although many natives can be left alone after one rainy season, most do best with some irrigation during summer heat waves for a year or two.

<CW-24>More and more nurseries are carrying native plants, but a specialized retailer has the best selection. You can still catch excellent sales this weekend at California Flora in Fulton (just north of Santa Rosa) and Mostly Natives in Tomales.

Rosemary McCreary, a Sonoma County gardener, gardening teacher and author, writes the monthly Homegrown column for The Press Democrat. Write to her at P.O. Box 910, Santa Rosa, 95402; or send fax to 664-9476.