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Fall cleanup time

By John Fulton

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[November 07, 2012]  Fall is definitely upon us, and we know the season coming next! While the weather is somewhat cooperative, it is time to take care of some of those final outside chores. At least you'll feel prepared when the weather turns cold and the main gardening activity is watching your favorite gardening show on public television.

Leaves have been one of the main cleanup items the past few weeks. They will continue to be an item, so here are a few options for you. Mulch them where they aren't too thick. You can mulch with a mower, blower vacuum or a chipper. This will reduce the volume greatly. Then the mulched leaves can be used as a mulch, but they may best be used on beds away from the house. The decaying organic matter tends to increase the millipedes, pill bugs and other nuisance pests around the house. Composting is also a great option. Composting leaves isn't tricky, it just takes a little bit of formulation. The rule of thumb is to add about one-fourth of a cup of commercial fertilizer per compressed bushel of leaves, or to use one part leaves and two parts of green material such as grass clippings or green material removed from the garden. Mulching before composting is a double-edged sword. The finer material will decompose quicker, but it will also compact more and reduces the oxygen need to make compost. For more information on composting, check the website at

Tender bulbs, roots or corms should be dug, if you already haven't done so. These would include dahlia, cannas, caladium, tuberous begonia and gladiolus. Many of these will actually have rotting problems from frost. Be careful when digging so the bulbs are not cut, as any wound usually means a rot will begin. Any bulbs that look diseased should be thrown away. Most can be dried at room temperature, but gladiolus should be dried at a higher temperature (70-80 degrees) and dusted with malathion to protect against thrips. Store all the bulbs in a cool, dry place.

Plants that are completely dormant, such as peonies, can be cut back. Leave a couple of inches above ground on many such as mums since they store food above ground as well as below. The couple of inches will also help catch snow and leaves to help create a "self-mulched area" to help them survive the winter. Clean up around fruit trees, the garden area and flower beds. Materials may be composted as long as they are not severely diseased.

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December through February are the best months to apply the plugs to pin oaks and other trees that show iron chlorosis. It is best to not do any pruning at this time. Wait at least until December for the non-evergreens, with December being the best month for oaks (due to oak wilt) and maples and other trees with a high sap flow. The December to February time period is the best for pruning most non-evergreens. Evergreens, including broadleaf evergreens such as rhododendrons, are best pruned in June. Flowering trees and shrubs are best done after they flower. This keeps flower bud numbers higher for the next year. It isn't bad for the plants to prune during the December to February period, but you will probably have fewer blooms in the spring.

Many roses are far from preparing for winter yet, so we'll try to cover rose care a little bit later. Just make sure you don't cover the roses before dormancy, or you tend to have severe disease and dieback issues.

[By JOHN FULTON, University of Illinois Extension]

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