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Over the Garden Fence

Gardening chores don't know summer is over

Some of our late summer and early fall garden tasks can take more time than others. Making a “to do” list can help us get them done in a timely manner and not forget anything. (For example, hurrying to get the houseplants in just after dark and before that predicted frost is never fun.)

Here’s a short list to get you started, including tasks when it’s too wet or hot out. However, every yard is different, so be sure to add your own tasks and prioritize for what works best for you.


  • Look them over for condition. There will be ones to save and take indoors, and others that should be heading to the compost bin
    • Compost-worthy are those that are too old, too big, covered in scale insects or have mites
    • For ones you are saving, you can flush them out with water and if needed treat for insects while they are still outside and before cold weather shows up
  • Mark the calendar to be sure they are inside by mid-September so they are acclimated for the winter months.


  • Any new seeding and/or sodding with good soil preparation
  • Consider core aeration as a way to relieve soil compaction in the lawn
  • Purchase your fall fertilizer or order your top-dressing material for your lawn for delivery later
  • Do a weed inventory and decide if a fall weed control will be needed
  • Provide a fall fertilization
  • Have a soil test done to get a benchmark
  • Mow until cold weather as needed
  • Clean the air filter on the lawnmower
  • Sharpen the mower blade or blades

Flower beds

  • See what needs to be deadheaded yet this year
  • Look for perennial plants that will need to be divided next spring
  • Head to your favorite garden center or retail nursery for end-of-the-season specials you just have to have
  • Figure out where you are going to plant those perennials you just bought
  • Fall weed management
  • Apply compost to the beds
  • Have a soil test done as a benchmark
  • Plant spring flowering bulbs


  • Check out the compost pile or bin – will you have to empty a bin or turn the compost pile before adding new materials this fall?
  • Add those greens (including lawn clippings) and browns (including fallen leaves) as you clean up annual and perennial beds
  • Remember DO NOT ADD weed seed heads when cleaning up this fall
  • Add some soil as a starter or activator during the build and whenever you add to the pile or bin
  • Add water and keep it moist for good decomposition

Planting trees, shrubs and evergreens

Before you buy and plant:

  • Consider location, soil type, and plant hardiness and choose plants that fit all three categories
  • Have utilities and cable located before the first shovelful
  • Remember, the planting hole should be wider at the top than at the bottom and of ample size
  • Give attention to any circling roots if it is container-grown

When you plant:

  • Plant trees with the flare roots at the soil line or slightly above the soil line
  • Water well when planted and continue to water well into the late fall, as needed
  • Optionally, mulch with several inches of straw mulch to slow the cold and allow root growth well into the late fall and early winter

There will always be plenty to do right up to the weekend when the weather finally stops us. Taking the time now to put together a good “to-do” list goes a long way towards getting the yard put to bed for the winter.


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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.