University of Illinois Extension

Fall Gardening Activities

Although summer may be drawing to a close, that doesn't mean your time in the garden is done, said University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"Fall is the ideal time for planting some things, as well as getting prepared for next year's garden," explained Candice L. Miller. "Here are a few fall activities that can be done to lengthen the summer gardening season and prepare for winter."

Plant spring flowering bulbs: Plant spring flowering bulbs like daffodils, tulips, crocus, and hyacinths as early as possible in the fall to allow plenty of time for root development; however, wait until after the ground cools to about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, usually after the first frost. Improve drainage by adding organic matter to the soil prior to planting the bed this fall and remember to plant to the recommended planting depth for each bulb.

Plant for a fall harvest: If the time hasn't already past, mid-July through about mid-September is the best time to sow various cool weather crops like broccoli, lettuce, turnips, collards, carrots, peas, radish, spinach, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. The season can also be extended by using floating row covers or cold frames to protect cool season crops.

Clean up the garden: Clean up any remaining plant material from the garden and consider starting a compost pile with all the leaves and garden debris. Fall is also an excellent time to till compost, manure, or other organic materials into your garden to improve the soil. Clean up any leftover weeds as well, as they can harbor diseases and insects.

Leave winter interest: Consider leaving some perennials and grasses standing to add winter appeal to your garden. This will also have the added benefit of attracting more wildlife to your garden throughout the winter season. Remember to wait and mulch perennial flowerbeds until after the plants have gone dormant, usually in very late fall/early winter. Two to three inches of loose mulch can help protect plants through the winter and prevent erosion.

Divide and plant perennials: New perennials can still be planted in fall and established perennials can also be divided. Now that the garden is well established, it's the perfect time to fill the empty spaces with new plants. Plant perennials no later than September, when the soil is still warm enough to encourage root development. Remember to apply a little extra mulch for added protection which can then be removed in the spring.

Plant trees and shrubs: Early fall is a great time for tree planting allowing you to take advantage of end of the season tree sales. Just remember to plant trees and shrubs to the proper planting depth, making sure not to cover the root flare, and provide supplemental watering following planting. The new plant should also be topped with a three-inch layer of mulch such as bark chips to conserve water and insulate the roots which may also help reduce frost heaving.

Consider fall annuals: Chrysanthemums, pansies and ornamental kale are all cool season plants that can add that last minute pop of color to your garden.

"See your local Extension office's website for more detailed information about all of these fall gardening activities," Miller said.