The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Fall is a great time to garden

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

The recent warm weather has lured us into a sense of summer, but the winds of winter will soon be whipping over the wheels of Winnebagos headed west. Fall is our second chance to get all the things done that we didn't do this spring and get a head start on next season. I get the most questions about when to do what, so I try to periodically give you a heads up on what to put on your "to do" list. However, I'm thinking of starting a support group for guilt ridden gardeners who never seem to get everything done. I just haven't found a room big enough to hold all of us.

Vegetable garden - Clean plant remnants from the garden. Start a compost pile with all the leaves and garden debris. Compost disease material or flowering weeds separately. Spread compost, manure or shredded leaves on the garden. Wood ashes can be spread on gardens sparingly. Apply no more than 20 lbs. (5-gallon pail) per 1,000 square feet per year. Wood ashes raise soil pH so should never be used around blueberries, rhododendrons, and potatoes.

Trees and shrubs - Fertilize trees and shrubs if not done in the spring and soil tests reveal need. Trees and shrubs can still be planted. Be sure not to plant too deep. Trunk flare should be apparent when planting. Make sure trees and shrubs are well watered as long as soil isn't frozen.

Roses - After roses are completely dormant, usually late November, clean around bushes, removing any diseased leaves. Pour well-drained soil or compost down through the center of the plant to a depth of 8-12 inches. After the soil is frozen, add 6-8 inches of wood chips or shredded leaves over the mound. Or forget all this and buy hardy roses.

Strawberries - Strawberries should be mulched before temperatures go below 20 degrees F which is generally around mid- November. Use a loose mulch of clean wheat straw. To help alleviate weeds, pull the straw apart in the lawn first or in some other area where the seeds can fall and won't be a problem. Apply 2-4 bales of straw per 1000 square feet of bed to a depth of 3 to 4 inches.

Flowers - Perennial flower beds can be mulched. Plants should be completely dormant before mulching, usually in mid to late November. Mulch should be loose such as wood chips, pine needles, pine boughs, or shredded leaves. Remove foliage once leaves die naturally or leave attractive stems such as ornamental grasses until spring.

For a beautiful display of spring flowers, it is not too late to plant flowering bulbs of tulips, daffodils and crocus. Ideally bulbs should be planted as soon as possible, but they can be planted up until the ground freezes. Select large firm bulbs. Large flowers such as tulips and daffodils should be planted 8 inches deep. Small bulbs of crocus and grape hyacinths should be planted 3 inches deep.

Lawns - Fertilize a final time after the last mowing usually later 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.

General – Don't underestimate the power of controlling perennials weeds in the fall. As long as temperatures are above 45 degrees F., herbicides can be effective as the plants prepare for dormancy. Also perennial weeds pull out easier with the rains of autumn.

Join a delightful group of people who also don't get everything done. Mail your Master Gardener application today. In Champaign County the deadline is November 26, 2007. Stop by our office or check out our website for applications and information on the classroom or online training program. If you don't live in Champaign County, find a UI Extension Master Gardener program near you at

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