click to enlarge A blueprint for fall gardening
Mary Hinkle, a master gardener and co-chair of the Springfield Civic Garden Club horticulture committee, enjoys time tending to her garden.

The end of summer does not mean the end of gardening. In fact, fall provides opportunities for planting vegetables, as well as bulbs and hostas that will ensure a colorful and beautiful garden come spring. Mary Hinkle and Patty Lloyd, who serve as the horticulture committee chairs for the Springfield Civic Garden Club, share their thoughts on fall gardening.

Start by developing a plan. Decide what you want to plant and where. You will need to be sure your garden beds offer the space, soil and sun exposure to accommodate what you wish to grow.

Fall vegetables

Hinkle, who is a designated master gardener, advises clearing away old plant material before planting vegetable seeds. She says an all-purpose fertilizer or organic compost can be added to the soil. Once seeds are planted, she recommends keeping the top half inch of soil moist to help with seed germination and root development.

Some vegetable seeds need to be planted by early September. If you wait too much later in the month, your choices of vegetables to plant will be more limited due to the timing of the first frost. "The average date of the first frost in central Illinois is around Oct. 15," said Hinkle. "Anything that will be harmed by frost should be harvested by then."

However, Hinkle notes, some veggies, such as kohlrabi, leaf lettuce, mustard and turnip greens, spinach and spring radish can survive a light frost. She also says you can extend the harvest season by covering crops with an old sheet and removing it each morning.

Flower bulbs

Fall is a great time to plant bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinth and crocus so you can enjoy pops of color in the early spring. Look for high-quality bulbs that are firm and plump with no spots or mold. And be sure they haven't already started sprouting.

The Illinois Extension advises planting bulbs four to six weeks before the first frost so the roots can start to grow. Bulbs grow best in well-drained soil with full or partial sun.

Bulb packaging will tell you how deep to plant the bulbs. A general rule of thumb is to bury them two to three times as deep as the bulb is tall. Place bulbs with the pointed-side up and the roots down. Give bulbs a healthy watering after planting and cover the soil with mulch.

Hostas

Many people love hostas because they are resilient and survive winters by going into dormancy. They are great for ground cover in shady areas, but some do well in sunny or partially sunny areas. Plant them in early fall after the heat of summer subsides. There are many varieties of hostas that vary by size, leaf shape, color and texture.

When planting hostas, the Old Farmer's Almanac advises digging a hole that is twice the size of the root ball. Use a well-balanced, slow-release fertilizer after planting. Keep the soil moist, but not soaked.

Hostas are toxic to pets so keep that in mind when deciding where to plant them.

Garden cleanup and maintenance

There are two schools of thought on fall garden cleanup, says Hinkle. "You can cut it all down and make it neat before winter, or leave most of it for nesting and developing pollinators over the winter." Lloyd adds that it is helpful to leave places for beneficial insects to hide over winter.

"Perennials such as hostas, peonies and iris should be trimmed up and the waste removed from the flower beds to avoid plant diseases like fungus," says Hinkle.

Lloyd says that fall is a good time to divide perennials, except for fall-blooming perennials such as chrysanthemums and asters. The divided flowers and hostas can be replanted elsewhere or shared with friends.

A final tip for gardeners is to make notes of what worked or didn't work so well in your fall garden, as well as make a list of things you want to consider for next year.

For more details about fall gardening, check the Old Farmer's Almanac (www.almanac.com) or the Illinois Extension website (extension.illinois.edu).

About the Springfield Civic Garden Club

The SCGC was established in 1929 and supports area groups in their horticultural, educational and environmental efforts. With 250 members, it is the largest garden club in Illinois. The group meets on the first Monday of most months to hear guest speakers or visit local gardens. Guests are welcome. For more information, visit scgc-il.org.

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