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Chicago Urban Gardening

The day to day experiences of a University of Illinois Extension Urban Horticulture Educator in Chicago, Illinois
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Prep for Spring in Fall

Posted by Ron Wolford -

Fall may end this year's gardening season, but it is also the perfect time to begin preparations for next year, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"Don't put that trowel and rake away yet," said Martha Smith. "Taking care of a few details now means fewer chores, pests, and problems next spring."

A good place to start is a walk through this year's garden.

"Walk through the vegetable garden and take notes on plant location and overall performance," she said. "You should sketch out your vegetable garden. Crop rotation is very important when it comes to vegetable diseases. In the spring, you can refer to your sketch rather than relying on your memory and plant vegetables in different locations.

"Annuals should also receive a year-end review. Note whether this season's plants met your expectations or if you need to experiment with different plants and varieties next year. Perhaps choosing a different location for certain varieties will help their performance."

Clean up the garden, completely removing diseased plants. Vegetable and annual plants should be removed. Healthy plant debris can be added to the compost pile.

"If any of your perennials have been seriously and routinely plagued with disease, fall is the time to discard them before spreading the problems to other plants," she said. "After the first frost, remove the annuals and cut back tops of tall herbaceous perennials.

"Many gardeners prefer to leave most of their perennials as they are, cutting them back in the spring. Perennials over three feet tall will only flop over under the weight of snow and create ideal environments for overwintering rodents. If you have had vole problems in the past, cut back tall perennials."

Rake leaves and add them to the compost pile or locate them near the pile so they are handy to add next spring and summer. Don't allow fallen leaves to accumulate and mat down over your desirable turf.

"This time of the year, your grass is actively growing," she noted. "Leaves smother the grass and prevent photosynthesis, which is the plant's ability to produce food. Consider using fallen leaves as winter mulch around tender plants."

Container plants should be pulled out of the container when they have been frost-killed. If saving the soil for next year, store in a dry area or cover it with plastic to keep out debris and prevent it from getting waterlogged over the winter.

"If not saving soil, add it to your compost pile and before storing clean out the container with a mild bleach solution--10 parts water, one part bleach," she said.

Dig up tender bulbs such as gladioli, dahlia, and canna lilies. Dry them and store over the winter in a cool but frost-free area. If you are considering adding hardy bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, and crocus, your local garden center has them in stock now. Check out the selection and plant in October and November for spring blooms.

"Now you can begin to put away your garden tools," Smith said. "But while you're at it, remember to clean the tools, wipe the metal blades with oil, and store them under cover so they are ready for next year's garden chores."

Source: Martha A. Smith, Extension Educator, Horticulture

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