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Learning to Grow: Autumn is just the beginning

Published: Friday, Sept. 6, 2013 5:27 p.m. CST

For some people, September signals the end of the growing season. The days are getting shorter; the summer annuals are past their prime; and it is time to start thinking about fall garden chores. But for me, September is all about looking forward and planning for next spring. Instead of being the end, autumn is just the beginning of my gardening year.

I have always loved this time of year. The days are still warm, the fall perennials are just starting to bloom, and the leaves on the trees have not yet started their downward drift. This is the perfect time of year to transplant and divide perennials, to plant bulbs and to rejuvenate a tired lawn. 

The University of Illinois Extension website has great advice on transplanting, bulb selection and lawn care at www.extension.uiuc.edu.

As I take stock of my flowerbeds to see where they have become overcrowded or where I want to try new plant combinations, I also check for diseases and environmental problems and make plans for the changes that are needed.

The key to success in fall planting is timing. Complete the task during September while the soil is still warm enough to promote good root growth and the plant has enough time to establish itself in its new home before winter. An extra layer of mulch will provide extra protection for them during the winter.

Adding bulbs is a task that yields wonderful results in the spring. While transplanting perennials or adding new plants I like to throw in a few bulbs to add spring interest. Daffodils are a favorite, but there are so many others to choose – tulips of all sizes, hyacinth, and crocuses to name a few.

They are a welcome sight after a long winter, but their beauty can only be enjoyed if they are planted in the fall after the soil has cooled a bit, but before the first hard freeze. I use Thanksgiving as my deadline.

The lawn is an important element to the garden – it frames the flowerbeds. Northern Illinois lawns are usually a combination of Kentucky bluegrass and perennial rye grass. These cool season grasses grow rapidly in spring and fall. The best time to fertilize is around Labor Day with N-P-K ratios of 3:1:2 or 4:1:2. Follow label instructions for application rates.

I am making big changes in my garden this year because I lost a large Ash tree to EAB (emerald ash borer). I am going to expand the sweep of lawn and plant a new border of sun-loving flowers along with some interesting new shrubs. I might even plant another tree. 

There are so many possibilities that come to mind and this is the best time of the year to consider all of them while looking forward to a wonderful spring and summer season.  It’s the beginning of a new, improved garden.

• Suzanne Thorne is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information.

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