Although the brightest blooms and biggest harvests passed with the equinox, your garden still has much to offer well into winter, from beautiful annuals to a bounty of winter crops.
But making a garden work for you year-round means that you can't sit out the cool months. The good news is, the maintenance and planting you do now will pay off in big dividends during the winter doldrums, delivering everything from fresh veggies to daffodils and tulips galore.
Before you do anything, however, you'll have to undertake a good fall cleaning.
Remove all your malingering tomatoes and other crops. Even if it seems like you might be able to stretch the harvest, those tired-out vines can be hiding slugs, snails and other destructive critters, said Fionuala Campion, the manager of Cottage Gardens of Petaluma.
Old tomato and squash vines by October and November may also have mildew and fungal issues.
"Harvest everything that is still out there and close to being harvestable. Any green tomatoes you can bring in and ripen indoors. Put your spent tomato vines on the compost pile, chopping them up well and then cleaning the spot where they were," Campion said. "I recommend at this stage putting down compost or manure in that spot and then let the winter rains enrich the soil for the next couple of months until you're ready to plant in the spring."
Of course, you could also put that newly acquired garden real estate to use for a winter crop. In October you can still plant lettuce, beets and carrots in Sonoma County, not to mention peas, cabbage, chard and kale.
In fact, the only months you wouldn't want to plant carrots and beets are December and January.
Campion recommends for lettuce the Rouge d'Hiver, a rusty red heritage romaine from France with a sweet flavor and buttery texture. Among the heritage carrots, she loves Scarlet Nantes. Thinking ahead, if you love fresh garlic, you'll want to get that into the ground now for spring as well.
Fava beans make a great winter cover crop, but they also make for good, fresh-from-the garden eating. Campion said she planted the Crimson Flowered Fava among some flowering clematis vines, but it was the fava flower that everyone raved over.
October also is an excellent time to plant perennials and trees that are not frost-tender.
"They're going to get their roots established over the winter months and they're not going to be hit by paralyzing heat waves. They'll be all ready to grow once spring hits. And you won't have to worry about water; the rains will take care of that for you," Campion said.
While you've got the planting bug, plant your early spring bulbs now.
"Putting in bulbs is like a real vote for the future that you're going to be around in the spring to enjoy all those beautiful daffodils and tulips," said Lydia Constantini, the manager of Sonoma Mission Gardens in Sonoma.
Another vote for spring is sowing wildflower seeds. Constantini advises waiting until after the first "reliable rain." You want a good rainy spell, like those of November, to keep the seeds and ground moist. Follow this advice and you'll get bright California poppies and other smile-inducing flowers when you're most hungry for spring.