October Gardening Tips for the Fox  Valley

Fall is here, and winter’s not far behind. But rather than sink into a gloomy mood over the end of summer, sink a few bulbs into the ground to set the stage for a beautiful, blooming spring! Everyone looks forward to the first flowers peeking through the ground (sometimes even poking up through the snow) to let us know that the new season’s arrived. And to enjoy our favorite springtime bulbs like daffodils, tulips and hyacinths, we’ve got to get ’em in the ground in fall.

Autumn is the ideal time to purchase and plant bulbs. And to get the best results, you’ve got to know what to look for. First and foremost, they must be firm. And don’t forget – size matters! The size and number of flowers is directly related to the bigness of the bulb: The larger the bulb, the larger the flower. Don’t worry about loose skins (tunics), because they may actually help the bulb root better. Plus, you can inspect the bulb more thoroughly for disease. So don’t be shy when pillaging through that bin of bulbs at your garden center. Grab the biggest, firmest ones you can!

Then get ready to plant.

It’s best to get your bulbs in the ground when soil temperatures fall below 60 degrees F. This is often around begining October to November here in the Chicago suburbs. The farther north you live, the earlier you can safely plant.

Why is fall the best time to plant? Turns out, it’s just another cool plant fact of life. Many bulbs develop their root system in the fall and do so by accumulating chilling hours. I won’t go into detail, but basically the bulb must spend so many hours below a certain temperature in order to produce a flower. Aha!

Fall Lawn Care 101 -

When it comes to lawn care, people tend to think in terms of spring and summer. As soon as the weather turns warm and the grass starts growing, they break out the spreader, the mower and related gear and get to work. What they fail to realize is that not only can they repair summer damage to the lawn in the fall and over the winter, but that they can actually improve the lawn so it will be healthier and have fewer weeds in the spring. For a few quick pointers on this, we spoke with Ashton Ritchie, a lawn care expert, author, agronomist and employee of Scotts lawn care products for nearly three decades.--Roy Berendsohn

What is the most important thing a person can do in the fall to see the lawn through the winter and prepare it for next spring?

Feeding is the most important thing you can do for your lawn this fall. Many folks who feed their lawn for the first time in fall remark, "I can't believe the difference in my lawn!" the following spring.

At first, a lot of the improvement in your lawn will be dramatic, as you see recovery from summer damage. But don't stop there. The real improvement comes with the second feeding in late fall. This second fall feeding helps to lock in the early fall gains in turf vitality and carry them forward into next spring. This late-fall winterizing gives your grass everything it needs to prepare for winter. The roots will absorb and store these vital nutrients. The grass will continue underground root development until the ground freezes solid. Once spring arrives, the grass plant will quickly tap this stored-up nutrition to stimulate growth and burst into a vibrant, deep green laen. In fact, a lawn fed twice in the fall will be the first to green up in spring.

…What is the most common mistake that people make in preparing their lawn for winter?


make three common mistakes:
1. They let the grass starve, thereby letting the
lawn go into the winter without the kind of nourishment that can really build up the roots.
2. They allow tree leaves to smother the
, robbing the lawn of the sunlight it needs for photosynthesis.
3. They discontinue mowing. Grass should be mowed until it stops growing. Maintain the same mower height setting throughout the fall. Don't be tempted to mow the grass short going into winter.
Is there anything about leaf removal or mulching that can improve or harm a lawn?
If leaves are quite heavy, and you are using a mulching mower, you might consider depositing the grass clippings and chopped up leaves on your compost pile rather than letting them sit on your lawn. This will help keep the clumps of chopped leaves from smothering the grass.
Is potassium the key to seeing the lawn through the winter? For example, I've noticed that Scott's Winterizer (22-3-14) has a high amount of potassium (14) compared to spring fertilizers.
Scotts Winterizer is high in nitrogen [the first number] and potassium [the last number]. These are the most important nutrients for fall feeding. They work together to nourish the grass plant during that important root growth period in fall. The phosphorus [the middle number] is the lowest as mature grass plants do not require much phosphorus. [Note: when seeding, you should use a special starter-type fertilizer that is high in phosphorus.]
Here's an extra tip: Spend a buck or two more for a higher-quality fertilizer. There is a big difference in how fertilizers work, even if they have the same nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium [N-P-K] numbers on the bag.
Are there other tips that you can give our readers about regarding fall watering, dethatching and aerating?
Fall is a great time to go after weeds like clover, ground ivy and dandelions. In fact, you can save time by using a special winterizer weed and feed instead of regular winterizer. Just be sure to apply your weed and feed to moist foliage on a day when rain is not forecast for 24 hours. You will find that come spring your lawn will be virtually free of broadleaf weeds like dandelions.
Also, lawns need about an inch of water a week to thrive. If you are not getting enough rainfall [not a problem in many areas this fall], you may need to water your lawn. Tip: Use a rain gauge to determine how much rainfall you are receiving and how long you should run your sprinklers. It's best to apply a half-inch of water when irrigating to get the water down deep.
Finally, aerate the lawn if you find that it has more than a half-inch of thatch. [Cut a test plug from your lawn and measure the brown dead material that is between the roots and the green growth.] Aerating will help the thatch to decompose and will open the soil to more oxygen. Leave the plugs on the lawn surface where they can break down.

September Gardening Tips for the Fox  Valley

Start planning your spring bulb garden now. Spring-blooming bulbs are planted in the fall to provide the chilling time required for spring blooms. Note the areas where you want to add bulbs for next year. Have your shopping list ready when the selection hits the garden centers. Remember to prepare your soil before planting bulbs. Work compost or other rich organic material into your soil to a depth of 12".

Dig up tender bulbs like elephant's ear, caladium, gladiolus, canna and dahlia before the first frost. When the foliage has turned yellow or brown on your bulbs, dig them up and store them for the winter. Replant bulbs in the spring after the danger of frost has passed. If you're storing summer bulbs such as dahlias and gladiolus, give them a quick check to see if any are rotting. If so, remove and discard. Also check for excessive dryness. Squeeze a bulb to test for health. A good bulb will feel firm, not hollow or mushy. Don't squeeze too hard or you'll bruise the outer skin. In milder climates, leave tender bulbs in the ground. Protect them with a blanket of mulch several inches thick through the winter.

Remember that roses require special care in the fall. In early fall, suspend fertilization. Continuing to fertilize causes new growth that could be killed by winter's cold. After foliage drops, spray with fungicide, then cover plants with a minimum of 8" of loose, well-drained soil, mulch or compost. Prune canes back to 36" to prevent damage from winter winds.

Start planning your fall garden now. Annuals like chrysanthemums, impatiens, ornamental cabbage, and pansies are old favorites. Try adding a late vegetable crop of spinach or turnips to enjoy before winter sets in. Start them by seed in trays if your garden space is still occupied with fruit-producing plants.

Late summer's heat can stress your plants, especially those in containers. Check flower pots, window boxes and especially hanging baskets regularly for dryness. Also check the mulch in the flowerbed to see if it's enough for the remainder of the growing season.

Divide perennials. To keep plants from drying out, do the work on cool, cloudy day. Make sure each section you divide has at least one bud and some roots. Plant the divided perennials immediately. Not all perennials appreciate fall division, some prefer spring. Make sure your variety is suitable for fall division before digging. Note: Typically the prennials that prefer fall division are those that bloom in the spring or early to mid summer like iris, and lillies. Here in the Midwest I have found Hostas and daisies prefer spring division.

Stop deadheading at the end of the season if you want your flowers to create seeds for next year. Once the flowers are dead, cut them and allow them to dry. Remove the seeds by crumbling the dried flower head into a container. Separate the seeds from the debris and put them in a labeled envelope for next spring. Another option — let them fall to the ground and re-seed n 




Early spring bloomers set their flowr buds the fall before. Pruning them early in the spring would mean losing some blossoms. Most of the time this is not what you want. However there are exceptions. It's ofter easier to prune when you can see the shape of the plant, before the branches are masked by leaves. Trees and shrubs that are in need of a good shaping could sacrifice a few blooms to be invigorated by a spring pruning.

  • Azalea (Rhododendron species)
  • Beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis)
  • Bridal Wreath Spirea (Spirea x vanhouttei)
  • Flowering Crabapple (Malus species and cultivars)
  • Forsythia (forsythia x intermedia)
  • Hawthorn (Crataegus species and cultivars)
  • Hydrangea, Bigleaf (Hydrangea macrophylla)
  • Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
  • Magnolia (Magnolia species and cultivars)
  • Mockorange (Philadelphus coronarius)
  • Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
  • Rhododendron (Rhododendron species)
  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora)
  • Slender Deutzia (deutzia gracilis)
  • Weigela (Weigela florida)

Trees and Shrubs to Prune in Early Spring, While Dormant

You can still get your pruner out this spring to shape the following list of trees and shrubs, while they are still dormant.

  • Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana)
  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia Davidii)
  • Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)
  • Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
  • Flowering Plum (Prunus blireana)
  • Glossy Abelia (Abelia x grandiflora)
  • Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata)
  • Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissiam)
  • Hydrangea, Peegee (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’)
  • Potentilla (Potentilla fruticosa)
  • Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
  • Spirea (except Bridal Wreath) (Spirea japonica))
  • Wisteria (Wistera species)