The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

It's Not Too Late to Garden

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

We usually get a few sunny days in the fall when the gardening bug bites just one more time before winter. Here are few tasks when the bug bites you.

Vegetable Garden

  • Fall is a bittersweet opportunity to reflect on the season – make notes of what did well and what didn't.
  • Clean up plant remnants from the garden. Start a compost pile with all the leaves and garden debris. The smaller the size of the debris the faster it will decompose.
  • Till compost, manure or shredded leaves into the garden.
  • Take a soil sample to a soil lab. Add any recommended amendments this fall such as sulfur to lower the pH. Soil testing labs are listed in the yellow pages of the phone book.


  • Pot chives or thyme to bring indoors for use in cooking this winter.
  • Bring in non-hardy herbs such as lemon verbena and rosemary. Lemon verbena will go dormant and lose all its leaves. Keep rosemary cool, plant in well-drained soil and do not let soil dry completely.
  • Plant garlic cloves outdoors for harvest next July.


  • This is the best time to control by pulling or hoeing winter annuals such as henbit and chickweed.


  • Mulch strawberries with 2-4 inches of straw before temperatures drop below 20 degrees F.

Trees and shrubs

  • If needed, fertilize trees and shrubs if not done in the spring. Rates should not exceed 2-2 1/2 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.
  • Woody plants should be well watered going into winter. Watering is especially important for evergreens such as pines, yews and rhododendrons. As long as the soil isn't frozen, evergreens should receive at least one inch of water every two weeks through rainfall or irrigation.
  • Apply anti-transpirants such as Wilt Pruf to help slow down water loss in needled and broad-leaved evergreens in windy locations.
  • Erect barriers such as poultry wire or hardware cloth to protect young trees and shrubs from rabbit and vole damage. Favorite plants on the menu include blueberries, roses, euonymus, fruit trees, and brambles.
  • Pick off bagworms from evergreens. Sprays are not effective now. Mark your calendar to spray in June.

Indoor Gardening

  • Begin providing poinsettias with 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness each day by covering with a box or putting in unused room.
  • Do not fertilize houseplants until next April unless using supplemental lights.
  • Begin giving Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus short days and cool nights to initiate flowering. Often placing plants in unused room will work.


  • Leave some plant remnants on the garden until spring to add interest to the winter garden, provide wildlife food and help hold mulch.
  • Mulch perennial flowers once plants are completely dormant, usually late November or early December. Mulch should be loose such as wood chips, pine needles, pine boughs or shredded leaves.
  • Plant spring flowering bulbs of tulips, daffodils and crocus. Make a sketch of planting locations. Only the squirrels will remember and they aren't talking.


  • Continue to mow lawns to two inches tall until grass is dormant.
  • Fertilize a final time after the last mowing usually in November. University research has shown that late fall fertilization instead of early spring fertilization can minimize lawn disease problems, promote color retention in the fall and encourage early green-up in the spring.
  • Wait until spring to reseed.

Apply for the Master Gardener volunteer program. Contact your county University of Illinois Extension office.

The 2003 U of I Extension calendar has great photography, seasonal gardening tips, a listing of Illinois public gardens and zone maps. It is available for $12 at the U of I Extension office in Champaign or call 1-800-345-6087.

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