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Down the Garden Path

Still Time for Late Fall Projects in the Yard

Time has run out for doing some gardening projects, but there is still time to plant your favorite spring flowering bulbs and prepare the home orchard for the winter.

Bulbs that flower for us in the spring of the year need to receive a cold treatment, easily provided through our winter weather by Mother Nature. Spring bulbs have been available and likely now are on sale at many retail outlets. Bulbs can be planted individually, especially those showy bulbs like fritillaries and alliums; others may be grouped together for the best effect, such as daffodils and tulips. Those really small, very early spring bulbs also are best if planted in groups for a good flower show due to their small flower size.

There are a variety of bulb planter tools a gardener can use for planting individual bulbs. Some come with a short handle for planting while you are down there on your hands and needs, getting up close and personal with your bulbs and garden dirt, or the same tool also may come with a long handle that uses your foot and leg power to push the tool into the soil. If electricity is available, a drill and a bulb-sized earth auger works well. If using a battery-operated drill, the battery can be drained quickly.

In open beds, digging up an entire area and setting the garden soil aside or into a cart may be easier in the long run. Planting depth depends on the bulb size; about 2- to 3-times diameter of the bulb is a good gauge, whether planting the bulbs individually or in groups. With beds, mulching the bulbs in will slow the freezing soil temperatures, allowing the bulbs a longer period to establish themselves for the winter. Another trick is to lay down a piece of chicken wire over the bulbs as you back fill the area to prevent critters from digging them right back up and eating them.

Home orchards will need some TLC too yet this fall. Removing grass and weeds around the trunks of the trees will lessen potential feeding damage from mice and voles. Be sure not to damage the trunk as you cut away the grass and weeds. String trimmers are not recommended for this task. If you leave an open ring of soil around the tree trunk, mice and voles will not venture across exposing themselves to natural predators. However, rabbits will eat the bark off of young fruit trees with smooth bark. They will feed from the soil line upwards, even standing on their hind legs to reach higher. Using chicken wire or hardware cloth to form a tube around the tree trunks, up at least 2 to 3 feet to protect the trunk in the event of drifting snow. Plastic spiral strips or wraps work well on younger fruit trees. Tree wraps that are wound up the trunk from the base to just below the lowest limbs prevent rabbit damage and have the added benefit of preventing frost cracks. While the wire tubes can be left in place during the summer, those wraps will need to be removed after the last chance of a late freeze passes in 2017.

Richard Hentschel is a Horticulture Extension Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. Stay tuned to more garden and yard updates with "Down the Garden Path" at and the "Green Side Up" podcast at