University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Roots Key to Plant Success

October 9, 1997

When growing yard and garden plantings, healthy roots are the key to healthy plants. Even though the growing season is winding down (although the summer weather of late is misleading), there is still time for improving root growth for the 1998 season and beyond.

For example, as plants from the vegetable and flower gardens die off this fall, work on building better soil for the future. Adding organic matter is the best way to improve soils, especially our typical high clay soils. Organic matter helps improve soil structure, drainage, and ability to hold both water and nutrients for plant use. Work in materials such as compost, peat, rotted manure, and others. Last week's column discussed how to build a backyard compost pile to utilize plant materials for compost production.

There is still time to core aerate lawns, which helps improve roots, among other benefits. Although the summer temperatures and sun have been nice, soils continue to be very dry, making aeration difficult. Water the lawn thoroughly a few days before aerating for best results. Aerating over the root zones of trees can also be beneficial in that it helps alleviate soil compaction.

Fall is also an important time for trees and shrubs to improve roots. Once again, dry conditions may be hindering this. Water shade trees, shrubs, and especially evergreens if conditions stay dry.

Fall fertilization may also be beneficial for root development of some trees. Fertilize before the soil freezes. Root feeders, fertilizer spikes, or drilling holes into the soil and adding dry fertilizer are suggested methods. It is best to get the fertilizer into the soil.

Finally, as the spring flowering bulbs are planted, remember that they prefer to start rooting in the fall. If the soil is quite dry, water the planting area thoroughly. Adding some balanced garden fertilizer while preparing the soil can also be helpful.

October is typically thought of as a time for yard and garden cleanup. It is also an important time for developing better plant roots for the future.


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