By now, most of the outdoor gardening to-do list is completed, or nearly so. However, there are always things to continue or to help us prepare spring.
There may be the need to mow again, not so much for the lawn itself, but to mulch up or collect the leaves that have ended up back in your yard from the neighborhood. A few leaves are OK, and even desirable as winter cover for our tender perennials and perennials in general. Leaves will protect the crown and moderate strong changes in above ground temperatures that might otherwise harm perennials. Sometimes you can use the mower to mulch and blow them into your beds if there is minimal grass clippings involved. If there is a lot of grass involved, then the mixture of grass and mulched leaves can be added to the compost pile giving us the browns and greens we so often hear about. During the last mowing of the yard, be sure to put some gas stabilizer in the gasoline so it gets all the way through the carburetor and gas lines. Better yet, fill the gas can one more time with the stabilizer added, that way so you will have treated gas for the snow blower all season.
Still have that bag or box of spring flowering bulbs sitting in the garage? The ground is not frozen and planting those bulbs will be easy. Follow the directions for proper planting depth. If you have not put the garden hose away, those bulbs should be watered to settle the soil around the bulbs to help with establishment.
While you are watering in the bulbs, give your evergreens, broadleaved evergreens, trees, and shrubs one last watering as well. Do this even though we have had a lot of water in recent weeks. It is important for all our plants, and really important for the evergreens so we do not have browned needles and leaves next spring.
Once you’re done with any final watering, be sure to remove the hose from the house and drain any remaining water from the hose before you store it for the winter.
In a previous column, I talked about protecting young fruit tree trunks from direct sun and rabbit damage. The same tactics apply for young ornamental trees and shrubs. Once cold weather and snow get here, they become the next meal once snow covers the lawn and weeds. There are variety products available at retail outlets.
Another end of the season project is cleaning and protecting your gardening tools. Leaving dirt on tools will lead to a rusty spot underneath next spring. A rusty tool is harder to work with than one that is free of rust. You can use a wire brush or coarse rag to remove the remaining soil and then use a light oil to cover and protect the garden tools. Clean your pruners and saws too to remove sap residue. Watch this video for tips on this process.
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.