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Columns

Down the Garden Path: A fall potpourri of yard work

Richard Hentschel
Richard Hentschel

There are still lots of things going on in the home landscape as fall settles in.

Woody plants are well on the way to dormancy; leaves are turning fall colors and coming down slowly right now. Most of our flowering perennials have lost that luster that we have enjoyed all summer. In fact, by now, perennials have succumbed to the many foliage diseases common this time of year. Powdery mildew can be seen on a variety of plants right now.

So what do we do now?

Let us start from the bottom up with lawns. We should continue to mow as needed, mulching the grass and any fallen leaves back into the lawn. Eventually, there will be too many leaves and then we should put on the mower bag to collect both leaves and clippings. This is a great combination of the “greens and browns” for the compost pile or bin. Mowing frequency will increase if there was a fall lawn feeding and will continue all this month into early November.

While on the late side, broadleaved weeds still could be treated. You may not see them totally die this fall, but if the weather is good for a few weeks after application, they will not regrow next spring.

Next up are the groundcovers. Many will not require much in the way of winterization. Where there is heavy leaf drop, keep a portion of the leaves out of the bed and the remaining leaves will degrade and end up as organic matter in those ground cover beds. Twigs and small branches should come out as well. Ivy, pachysandra, sedums and ginger do just fine on their own.

Right behind groundcovers are the many perennial flowers we enjoy. Herbaceous plants will die to the ground and can be cleaned up, so this effort is never a one-and-done garden chore, as cleanup occurs over a period of several weeks. Spring bulbs fall into this category of cleanup as well, if they were not dealt with when they naturally collapsed in the summer.

Flowering shrubs stand on their own, unless it is time to consider renovation pruning on some of the fine-textured shrubs like spirea and potentilla. While gardeners may enjoy the dormant appearance, late November is a time to begin the renovation process or you will be waiting until early spring, well before growth resumes.

Larger flowering shrubs typically set up flower buds the year before, so doing any pruning now eliminates a portion or all of the bloom show for spring 2019. Structural problems easily can be seen once dormant and removing a problem branch is appropriate.

Ornamental flowering trees, like crabapples, are very likely going to contain water sprouts and later they become crossing branches in the canopy and contribute to an overly dense canopy. Removal should be done while dormant.

Shade trees should at least be looked at to determine if there are structural problems in the canopy that would require a professional to address. Once the canopy gets bigger than we can manage without risking a fall off the ladder, it is better to let the professionals do it.

• Richard Hentschel is a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. In October, the Kendall County Master Gardener Help Desk is open from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 630-553-5823.

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