University of Illinois Extension

Prepare Now for Spring Gardening

Don't put that trowel and rake away yet, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"Fall may end this year's gardening season, but it is the perfect time to begin preparations for next year," explained Martha Smith. "Taking care of a few details now means fewer chores, pests and problems next spring."

How did your garden fare this year? Walk through the vegetable garden and take notes on plant location and overall performance.

"You should sketch out your vegetable garden", said Smith. "Crop rotation is very important when it comes to vegetable diseases. In the spring you can refer to your sketch rather than rely on your memory and plant vegetables in different locations."

Annuals should also receive a year-end review. Note whether this season's plants met your expectations or if you need to experiment with different plants and varieties next year. Perhaps choosing a different location for certain varieties will help their performance.

Clean up the garden

"Diseased plants should be completely removed," she said. "Healthy plant debris can be added to your compost pile. If any of your perennials have been seriously and routinely plagued with disease, fall is the time to discard them before they spread problems to other plants.

"After the first frost, remove annuals and cut back tops of tall herbaceous perennials. Many gardeners prefer to leave most of their perennials as they are, cutting them back in the spring. But tall perennials over three feet will only flop over under the weight of snow/ice and create ideal environments for over wintering rodents."

Rake leaves and add them to your compost pile or locate them near the pile so they are handy to add next spring and summer. Don't allow fallen leaves to accumulate and mat down over your desirable turf.

"This time of year your grass is actively growing," she noted. "Leaves smother the grass and prevent photosynthesis which is the plants' ability to produce food. Consider using fallen leaves as winter mulch around tender plants."

Container plants should be pulled and added to your compost pile. If the roots and all the potting mix come out together, saving that media for next year is going to be difficult. Those tough roots are not going to disappear over winter, and you will have to deal with them sooner or later.

Potting mixes will also lose their organic matter content since it breaks down through the growing season. Throw roots and media in the compost pile if this is the case and clean out the container with a mild bleach solution. (10 parts water: one part bleach). If saving the soil for next year,store in a dry area or cover it with plastic to keep out debris and prevent it from getting waterlogged over winter. If not saving soil, add it to your compost pile.

Dig up tender bulbs such as gladioli, dahlia and canna lilies. Dry them, and store over winter in a cool but frost-free area," she said. "If adding hardy bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and crocus, your local garden center has them in stock now. Check out the selection and plant in October and November for spring blooms."

Now you can begin to put away your garden tools. But while you're at it, remember to clean the tools, wipe the metal blades with oil, and store them under cover so they are ready for next year's garden chores.