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Over the Garden Fence

Fall's Frequent Topic Review

Fall Colors & Leaves: Three weeks ago, there was only a hint of fall color in the home landscape. In the last week or so, fall color has come a long way. All the red maple cultivars have developed good reds and lots of other trees and shrubs are showing strong yellows and golds. Very soon, according weather forecasts, we are expecting a hard freeze and that color show will end. The Master Gardener Help Desk calls continue to come in with questions about foliage being eaten and fallen leaves showing signs of disease. That is a good news, bad news story. The good news part is that insect feeding cannot continue with the weather change. In many cases, the damage found occurred weeks back, but went unnoticed while the foliage remained on the tree, so that is the bad news part. There are not a lot of disease on leaves that is new to the tree (some more good news). Diseased foliage may be some of the first to fall from the tree, usually without strong color.

Lawn holes: Another set of questions has been lawn related. Holes in the lawn and mushrooms. Depending on the shape of the holes, we are talking about squirrels attempting bury seeds, nuts and fruits. Squirrels will often dig more than one hole before deciding the last one is “just right.” Those holes are round in nature and about two inches wide. The other holes found can be from skunks digging for grubs. That hole shape is like a top, the toy we may have played with as a kid. When no grub is found, they move on to another spot in the yard and dig in again. As it gets colder, the digging will stop.

Bulbs: Actual late season gardening questions have been about spring and summer bulbs. Our winter hardy spring bulbs should be planted now (if not already) so there is some time left for establishment before the ground freezes solid. It also is time to dig up our non-hardy summer bulbs for winter storage. Summer bulbs and tubers need to be kept cool at temperatures above freezing. Check them in January or February to be sure they are not drying out, add a small amount of water if needed. Depending on how warm you store them, they will start to grow, planted or not. Keeping them in the 40s will usually keep them dormant until you are ready to pot them up to either grow inside or plant them outdoors again once weather warms.

Tool Clean Up: A reminder about tool maintenance before the winter. Garden clean up this fall looks like it will be around for several more weeks until all our beds are clean and the lawn finally mowed for the last time. Any tool you use should be free of dirt and dry as possible before you store it for the winter. Dirt will hold moisture and leave behind rust underneath. Consider using a light oil or water-repelling product to protect the metal parts of your tools once they are a clean. This strategy also holds true for the mower deck and blade.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.