Late Fall Garden Tips

Part of the Kenno's Blog series.
By Ken Brown
Editor, You Can Learn Series
Updated:
October 23, 2007

I looked at the weather report and saw that we are expecting frost in the near future. That is normally a red flag that some things need to occur in the garden. At this time of the year what should you be concentrating your attention on for the best results to occur next summer?

Here are a few suggestions. Don't feel you have to do all of them. Sometimes, we look in the garden and we don't appreciate it for what it is. To me a garden means so much. It is calming, beautiful, active, growing and even sometimes spiritual. On the hot days it can just be hot and frustrating. But, don't focus all your attention on what isn't done. This list is not made to make you feel guilty. It is just an opportunity for you to prepare the garden for next year.

The plants pretty much know what to do without much of our help. We water them and pile mulch on them to keep them moist and warm. But, most will survive the winter without our help. I know there are Roses that need additional tender loving care. But, my Russian Sage. They are going to do what they need to do to make it through a tough winter or a easy winter.

Here are ten things you can do to prepare your garden for winter.

  1. If you are going to plant tulips start doing it now.
  2. Rose bushes should be covered.
  3. This is a good time to transplant plants to new locations
  4. Fertilize the lawn one more time
  5. Do some more weeding
  6. Cut back ConeFlowers to their leaves
  7. Bring in the bird bath and bird feeders
  8. Cut Back the spent flowers of the Yarrow, Salvia, DayLilies, Daisy, and Astilbes
  9. Pick up leaves
  10. Mulch plants where you see bare ground around them

Click on birdfeeder to see larger photo.
Photo of Bird Feeders in Garden.
Clean out the bird feeders with soap and water before putting them away for the winter.

    

Click on iris plant to see larger photo.
A Photo of an Iris plant that has been removed from the ground.
The Iris plant before being transplanted.

    

Tulips

Tulips should be planted before the first frost. Now this isn't a hard and fast rule. I have planted tulips after the 5th frost. It is just easier to turn the ground while it is still warm. You can't wait forever. The tulip bulbs need to have a certain amount of time in cold ground. There are ways to force this without mother nature's help, but it is easier to just take the time to do it right.

Rose Bushes Should be Covered

Now there are different kinds of rose bushes. I am talking about the Hybrid Teas in Illinois. After the temperatures begin to go below 32 degrees, cut the trunk back to 15 to 18 inches high. Then cover the bushes with leaves. Make sure the entire bush is covered. Then I recommend you get a styrofoam cover for the bush. Place this cover over the rose bush and put a brick or something heavy over the top of it so it doesn't blow off.

If you have a methodology that you have used in the past that has worked for you, then don't go changing it now. Do the same thing you always do. These roses are delicate in the Illinois winters and need tender loving care.

Transplant Plants to New Locations

This can be an excellent time of the year to take you Irises and move them to a new location in the garden. We just took ours from the front of the house and placed them on the west side of the house. We'll see if they flourish there as nicely as in the front. Perennials you can transplant in fall:

Fertilize the Lawn One More Time

If you like having a green and lush lawn, then fall is a good time to feed it with fertilizer. You really only need to fertilize a lawn but twice a year. Once in the spring and once in the fall. But, don't skip the fall feeding. This prepares the grass to be ready to grow in the spring once the ground begins to thaw.

Do Some More Weeding

Weeding can be hard work and by this time of year the last thing you want to do is more weeding. But, just a couple of more hours weeding in the fall will make your job in the spring so much easier. The key to good weeding is to do some everytime you go into the garden. A little here and a little there and you control them. Otherwise come mid-summer when all you want to do is sit by the pool or even in the pool; instead you have these weeds in all the flower beds and someone telling you they need to be removed. Make you summer more fun by getting a good start on them in the fall.

Cut Back Cone Flowers

This is really a personal choice. Some people like to have the dried seeds standing up all winter long. They can really add interest when the snow is sitting a foot or two high and all you see is the head of the coneflowers. But, other people are tired of them and think they look ugly. Well cut down the flower stalks. Hopefully, you glimpsed a bird or two eating the seeds of the coneflower. You think the birds should bend the flower to the ground, but no they just gently sway as they eat the seeds. By this time of the year the birds are heading south so if you don't want the head all winter then cut them down.

Bring in the Bird Bath and Bird Feeders

Depending on the material of your bird bath you may want to bring them into the garage. I have a bird bath that is ceramic that has a lot of character. It isn't level, it has cracked completely in half and the birds think it is too deep. But, we love it. I will bring it into the garage this weekend. The bird feeders should be cleaned out with soap and water before bringing inside. Some people will feed the birds all winter. I like to encourage the birds that should head south to start. By mid October I will stop feeding them. I normally don't feed the birds during the winter.

Cut Back the Spent Flowers of the Yarrow, Salvia, DayLilies, Daisy, and Astilbes

Mid October I was cutting flower stalks down. I spent my time on the Yarrow, Salvia, Daylilies, Daisies and Astilbes. These are personal choices. Mary and I choose to remove the spent stalks. It gives a cleaner look to the garden. Just grab a handful of flower stalks and cut with a pair of garden scissors. You can get through a garden bed in about an hour.

Click on Hydrangea to see larger photo.
A Photo of a Hydrangea before being cut for winter.
A photo of a Hydrangea plant before it is cut for winter.

    

Pick Up Leaves

Leaves should be falling from the trees. What are you going to do with them? Depends a lot on how your local community wants you to dispose of them. Some communities have trucks with huge vacuum cleaners on them. As the truck is driven slowly down the street, someone walks along with the vacuum hose and vacuums them all up into the truck bed. This is really a cool process, but sometimes you rake the leaves into the streets and then they aren't picked up for 3 or 4 weeks.

Many people use the leaves as mulch to protect their plants from the harsh winters. Pack the leaves around your Rhododendrons. As stated earlier you can pack your rose bushes. Cover some of your ground cover plants with leaves to protect them during the winter. These plants usually do a good job of capturing leaves and covering themselves like an old man keeping warm with a blanket and sleeping in front of the tv.

Hopefully, you don't live in a community like a friend of my wife's. This lady lives in an older neighborhood with many wonderful large old trees. She will buy 150 lawn and leaf bags every year. She buys a group of five everytime she goes to the grocery store all year long. That way she is ready when the leaves begin to fall.

Mulch Plants

In some garden beds you might find the mulch has deteriorated and you might want to freshen the mulch or even buy a little more to keep the plants happy during the winter. This should be a minor job and you will put more down in the spring if you need it.

That should be enough little tasks for you to keep you busy the rest of the nice weekends. There probably aren't that many more great weekends left for us here in Northern Illinois. This weekend is shaping up as a good one. But, it will be getting cold and windy and blustery soon. It will be easier to watch the leaves blow than actually be out there trying to capture them. Put a smile on your face and have one more fun weekend in the garden.

A Secret To Blogging Success You Don't Want to Hear - How Long is It Going to Take You to Strike It Rich in Blogging? That is a good question right? All these successful bloggers you are trying to imitate did not become full time successes overnight. It took some time.

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