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Fall Garden Tasks

October is upon us and as gardeners that means we are wrapping up the gardening season. The leaves have started to turn and will be falling soon. As we head into fall, we need to consider completing a few simple tasks outside in our lawn and garden that will help keep out garden looking good for the next season.

In our perennial garden beds, most perennial plants have slowed or stopped growing and most are not flowering. If the plant is still strong and the plant has not shown any disease issues then consider allowing it to stand over the winter. Perennial plants, especially ornamental grasses, add a unique interest to the winter landscape as they poke through the blanket of snow. In addition, perennial plants provide a place for our beneficial insects to overwinter as well as provide food for the birds.

It is a great time of the year for planting. Yes, fall is for planting. Planting spring flowering bulbs this time of year will give us beautiful blooms early next spring. Look for daffodils, tulips, crocus, hyacinth and more at your local garden center to plant this fall before the soil freezes. Fall is also a great time to plant trees and shrubs. Trees and shrubs benefit from the cooler air temperatures, warmer soil temperatures and increased rainfall, all which play a role in their successful establishment.

Let us talk about fall garden clean up tasks. At this time, cut back annual flowering and vegetable plants that have frosted back. Consider composting any dead plant materials that is free of disease. Make sure to remove any weeds that remain in your garden. These weeds can harbor disease and produce thousands of seeds, which can cause you even more headaches in the years to come.

Leaf removal is a familiar task. Remove leaves from the lawn to prevent them from smothering the grass or shred the leaves and a light layer can be reapplied to lawns as organic matter, the shredded leaves can also be used in flowerbeds as mulch or incorporated into the soil of a vegetable garden. The 2018 growing season provided us with several diseases in trees namely tar spot on maples. If you had a tree disease in your landscape this year, it is best not to compost those leaves or use them for mulch. It is best to dispose of them off your property to help ensure that the disease does not over winter in those fallen leaves.

The cool season grasses that we see in our lawns in northern Illinois thrive in the fall. They continue to grow and fill in. It is important to inspect our lawns this time of year for weeds that we may want to remove so that our lawn has a chance to fill in, aiding in its ability to out compete the weeds in the next growing season. Mowing will continue a while longer and when it concludes be sure to sharpen the blades on your lawn mower. Sharp blades leave a clean cut on the grass keeping it healthy and free from invading insects or disease.

Plan to dig your tender bulbs after they frost back. Cut back the dead foliage, remove the loose dirt and store in a cool spot in the basement at about 50 degrees. Also, bring in your houseplants before the first frost. Inspect them for insects and consider repotting them to keep unwanted insects from hitching a ride into your home.

Once the tasks are complete, you can enjoy the slower pace of the winter months while you plan and dream about the garden next year. Make notes of vegetable garden plantings and plan to rotate your crops to different locations in the garden this coming year. As the seed catalogs start pouring in grab your notebook and start making plans for the next growing season.

For more information on garden related issues, call the University of Illinois Extension at (815) 235-4125.