The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

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Some garden chores can wait

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Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

My articles often include a timely checklist of things to do in the garden. I could mention how this is a good time to remove plant remnants from the vegetable garden and start a compost pile with leaves and garden debris. Or how you could be spending your weekend spreading compost, composted manure or shredded leaves on the garden.

You could take a soil sample to a soil lab. If I were into that timely thing, I would mention that any needed amendments such as sulfur to lower the pH should be applied now.

I might also mention it's a good time to finally plant the spring flowering bulbs you bought a month ago. Ideally bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and crocus should be planted as soon as possible, but they can be planted up until the ground freezes. Plant large flowers such as tulips and daffodils at 8 inches deep. Small bulbs of crocus and grape hyacinths are planted 3 inches deep.

Trees and shrubs can still be planted in November, but you could procrastinate until spring. With fall or spring planting, be sure not to plant trees too deeply. The trunk flare at the tree base should be apparent after planting. Erect barriers of poultry wire or hardware cloth to protect young trees and shrubs from rabbit and vole damage. Favorite plants on the menu include any newly planted trees and shrubs, blueberries, roses, fruit trees and brambles.

If all that timeliness is just too much pressure and procrastination gardening is more your style, here are a few chores that can wait.


Wait until April to perform any major pruning of roses. Protect grafted rose safter plants are completely dormant, usually late November or early December. Clean around bushes by removing any diseased rose 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, ungrafted (own-root) roses such as hybrid rugosa, Canadian Explorer series, Parkland series, Dr. Buck series and Knock Out™ roses.

Trees and shrubs

Major pruning of trees and shrubs is best left until late winter or early spring (February-March). Any early blooming shrubs such as lilac and forsythia are best pruned soon after blooming, generally in June.

Flowers and grasses

Flower beds can be mulched but wait until perennials are completely dormant, usually in mid to late November. Mulch should be loose and light weight such as wood chips, pine needles, pine boughs or shredded leaves.

Wait until late winter or early spring to prune off dead stems of flowers and ornamental grasses. Old stems of sedum and coneflowers can be attractive through the winter and can provide seeds and winter protection for wildlife.


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 reduce grassy weeds next year, 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.


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.

Some garden chores can wait, but don't delay in applying for the Master Gardener program. Check out our web site for more information and to apply online Questions? Champaign office (217.333.7672); Danville (217.442.8615); or Onarga (815.268.4051).

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