Last weekend I walked around my gardens with a journal and took notes. I jotted down what worked and what didn't and began preliminary plans for next year. This really helps me, since I tend to forget these things over the winter.
My notes this fall tell me to definitely plant a Mandeville in the blue pot by the pool, but to begin training it sooner to grow over the deck. I will continue to use impatiens under the pergola in either orange or white. The lantana did very well in my concrete basket planter, but the calibrachoa struggled in the square blue pots on the patio.
Gardening is always a learning process, and experimentation is the best teacher. I hope to make several small changes in my gardens next year. I had way too much orange color in my flower beds and need to carefully mix colors more next year. The petunias worked well around my retaining wall but need a "haircut" about mid-summer to prevent the leggy look at summer's end.
Don't forget the vegetable garden on your garden walk. Take notes on where each vegetable was placed and overall performance. Many people had disease problems this year on their tomatoes and peppers. Crop rotation is critical when it comes to vegetable diseases. In the spring you can refer to your sketch rather than rely on your memory and plant vegetables in different locations. I plan to plant a salad garden next year instead of using so many annual flowers.
As you winterize containers and put away the lawn furniture and garden decorations, take the time to examine them carefully. Anything we put in the garden needs proper drainage. Certainly, we can grow plants in anything that holds soil, but drainage holes in the bottom are essential to assure the plants don't drown.
Even more important is proper drainage for mosquito control. My Entomologist friend Dr. Phil Nixon says research has found that certain mosquitoes need so little water to breed that candy bar wrappers can serve as breeding grounds! It is imperative that we make sure no garden decorations hold stagnant water.
My journal also notes where I need to do yard work yet this winter. I have several oak trees that need to be pruned. Oak trees should not be pruned in the summer since the wound can attract a beetle that spreads the deadly oak wilt disease. I also want to limb up my red maple this winter while the leaves are gone and I can better see the tree's structure.
Finally, take the time to prepare your garden tools for next year's garden chores. Clean the tools, wipe the metal blades with oil, groom wood handles, and store them under cover. The preparations you make now will go a long way to get you started in the spring. If you are like me, in the spring I am so anxious to get the plants out that I don't take the time to clean and maintain. So, take the time now while you can enjoy a fall garden stroll!
Watch a video of my journaling stroll at http://go.illinois.edu/ferreevideos