Fall is here and the gardening season is winding down. Here’s a checklist for October:
Woody plant care
If any of your trees or shrubs failed to leaf out completely, showed stunted growth or are recovering from insect or disease damage, you may want to consider applying fertilizer.
Roses should be prepared for winter by mounding dirt around the base of the plant. Severe winter conditions can be helped by covering the rose bushes with ventilated cones.
Keep your compost pile active this fall by adding fallen leaves, dried grasses and frost killed annual and perennial plant matter. Never add diseased material to your compost pile.
Annual and perennial care
As annual containers are emptied, clean and sterilize them before storing for the winter.
Colorful perennials to enjoy in the late fall include helianthus, Brilliance fern, amsonia, Angelina sedum, All Gold Japanese fountain grass and Soloman’s Seal for stunning, yellow autumn display. To compliment the beautiful yellow flowering plants, consider using purple Blackberry Ice coral bells and blue/lavender Russian Sage.
Late fall is the time to turn our attention to bulbs.
Spring-flowering bulbs can be planted in October. If rodents are a problem, consider planting pest resistant bulbs including narcissus, grape hyacinths, windflower and winter aconite.
A few weeks after a killing frost, it is time to lift and store your tender bulbs. Dahlias, cannas, tuberous begonias and caladium bulbs can be stored with the same process.
First, you should gently lift tubers out of the soil with a pitchfork. Shake off excess soil and dry in a warm location. Label and store in a cardboard box lined with newspaper and barely moist wood shavings, peat moss or vermiculite. A darkened 40-50 degree location works well. Bulbs should be checked to see that they have not rotted (throw out) or dried out (sprinkle with water).
Gladiola corms should be dug and stored between 35 and 40 degrees in paper or mesh bags.
Lawns should continue to be mowed at 2 1/2 to 3 inches in October. If your lawn was not fertilized in September, apply a 4-1-2 or 3-1-2 ratio fertilizer now along with a final application of high nitrogen fertilizer to help your lawn green up faster in the spring.
Fruit and vegetable care
Remove fallen fruit from your garden and yard.
Apple trees may be pruned during the winter when they are resting. Extra wood should be cut out of the trees to ensure plenty of light for the leaves and fruit next season. Winter pruning helps keep your apple trees healthy.
Pumpkins should be harvested before a killing frost. Pumpkins are ready when they are showing a deep, solid color. Cut pumpkins from the vine with a 3-4 inch stem. Pumpkins without stems usually to not store well.
With winter approaching, both migratory and nonmigratory birds will be passing through our yards and gardens. They would appreciate a little help from us.
Shelter is extremely important especially for birds that remain here all winter. Perennial plants and grasses that are not cut down until spring provide a good protective habitat. Conifer trees and shrubs allow birds to get out of the cold and wet.
Equally important to good shelter space is a ready food supply.
Migratory birds need to take on massive amounts of calories to sustain them through their long journey to the south. Berry producing trees and shrubs are excellent food sources. Bushes and trees in our area that can supply these early fall visitors with what they need include viburnums, crabapples, elderberries, wild grapes and redtwig dogwood.
For birds that remain here all winter, a food source that holds its fruit longer will be required. Chokeberry, high bush cranberry, sumacs, bayberry and fruiting holly are a few of the bushes that winter birds prefer. Pine cones from conifer trees provide another good food option.
We all enjoy watching the birds. So, let’s consider helping them out by planting some bird friendly trees and shrubs in our yards.
This is the final column for this year. The master gardeners wish you an enjoyable fall and winter. We look forward to another great gardening season together in 2014.
• The Master Gardeners can answer questions at the University of Illinois Extension DeKalb County office. The Help Desk will be open Monday, Wednesday and Friday only in October and will close for the season on Oct. 15. Call 815-758-8194 or email DeKalb_mg@extension.uiuc.edu.