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Weekend Life

Learning to Grow: Fall clean up and spring planning

Even as a young child, fall has always been my favorite time of year.  I love the cool, crisp air, and it is a pleasure working outdoors. 

As an adult and avid gardener, fall is still my favorite time of year, as I clean up the vegetable garden, perennial garden and the lawn – all the while planning for next year.

Here are a few outside tasks to complete in the next few weeks.

• Lawn – It is best to continue mowing your lawn until it is dormant. The last mowing should be at a height of 2 inches to prevent winter damage from snow mold or powdery mildew. Around Thanksgiving time is also an excellent time to apply a balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer. Timing the application just before a late season rain or early snow is perfect.  The slow release of this fertilizer will get your lawn off to a lush start in the spring.

• Bulbs – Remember to lift tender bulbs and corns that are desired for next season. It is not too late to plant spring flowering bulbs. I still plan on planting Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica) which is one of my favorites. I love the little blue flower and the fact that they colonize over time.  A little effort this fall will pay off with a fresh new look in spring.

• Perennial beds – You can leave perennials stand tall all winter. Echinacea and Rudbeckia provide winter food for the birds.  

Remember to remove any diseased leaf debris from your garden and dispose of it – do not place it in your compost bin. Cut down any perennials that are self-seeding so they don’t expand into unwanted areas. If there are vacancies in your perennial bed, make mental notes for new additions next year. 

• Vegetable beds – If your soil needs a boost, till compost or leftover vegetable debris directly into the soil each fall. Dispose of diseased debris. Look for those straggler tomatoes and zucchinis that may have fallen to the ground to prevent too many volunteers next year. The enriched soil will be awaiting those seeds and seedlings next April. 

• Tools – Be sure to remove all dirt from your tools with a wire brush. Check for any necessary repairs – loose screws or broken handles. Next, sharpen hoes, spades, pruners, and loppers. Wooden handles can be wiped down with linseed oil so the handles don’t crack.

The final step is to spray all metal and cutting edges with a penetrating oil to prevent rust. If you decide to do any dormant pruning or cutting back of grasses and hydrangeas on a nice day in February, you will be all set.

This fall has seen a fair amount of moisture, but continue to monitor moisture levels until the ground has frozen. This is particularly important if you have planted new trees, shrubs, grass seed, perennials, bulbs, etc. By putting the garden to bed properly in the fall, it will awaken next spring ready to greet the new season with vigor.

• Vicki Hagstotz 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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