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 – Plant garlic cloves for harvest in July.

Clean plant remnants from the garden. Start a compost pile with all the leaves and garden debris.

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 on their own rootstock.

Strawberries - Strawberries should be mulched before temperatures go below 20 degrees F. Use a loose mulch of clean wheat straw to a depth of 3 to 4 inches. To help alleviate weed seedlings, pull the straw apart in an area where the seeds can fall and won't be a problem.

Flowers – Dig tender bulbs such as caladium and canna before hard freeze. Store in sawdust or peat moss at 55 degrees F.

Flower beds can be mulched with wood chips, pine needles, pine boughs, or shredded leaves. Plants should be completely dormant before mulching. Remove flower stems once leaves die naturally or leave attractive stems such as ornamental grasses until spring.

For a beautiful display of spring flowers, it is time to plant tulips, daffodils, crocus and lesser known winter aconite and snowdrops. Select large firm bulbs. Large bulbs such as tulips and daffodils should be planted 6-8 inches deep and small bulbs of crocus and grape hyacinths at 3 inches deep.

Lawns - Fertilize a final time after the last mowing, usually in late 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 perennial weeds in the fall. As long as temperatures are above 45 degrees F., herbicides can be effective as the plants prepare for dormancy. Always read and follow all label directions.

If you need visuals on how to accomplish your garden chores, check out

Join a delightful group of people who also try to get everything done. Apply to the Master Gardener program today. Check out our website or give us a call PH: (217) 333-7672 for applications and information on the classroom or online training programs in Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties.

To find a UI Extension Master Gardener program near you

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