Fall Garden Chores

Right about now, some gardeners are thinking about putting their gardens to bed and stowing the trowels and pruners. Before you do that, think about popping a few fresh plants into your containers to take your garden’s display into fall. Garden centers are awash with pumpkins, mums, pansies, decorative stems, and kale in celebration of autumn. Take a stroll through one of our 27 beautiful display gardens for inspiration and ideas. Here are some things to do now before your garden winds down.


Time to Plant

September is a great time to plant some types of trees and shrubs. Cooler days, warm soils, and rain or supplemental watering help woody plants get established before going dormant. Some trees are marginally hardy in the Chicago area and should be planted in the spring. Be sure to ask an expert before planting.


Bulb planting

Think Ahead

This is the month to start planning and planting for a spring display. Daffodils, snowdrops, crocuses, tulips, grape hyacinths, and glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa forbesii) are just a few of the lovely spring-blooming bulbs that put on a stunning show long before most perennials and annuals begin to flower. As their name implies, snowdrops sometimes poke out of the snow-covered ground in January, a most welcome sight.


Lawn care

Lawn Care

If your turf had trouble this summer, now’s the time to address it. Cool air and warm soil are ideal for grass seed germination. Seeds have a better chance of thriving at this time of year because weeds—such as dandelions and creeping Charlie—grow less vigorously than in spring. Seeding a lawn, however, isn’t always the answer. Learn more about the many ways to care for a lawn.


garden tools

Clean the Tools

We should clean our garden tools regularly—after each use is ideal—but sometimes that doesn’t happen. They definitely should be cleaned (and sharpened if needed) before you put them away for winter. Take a few minutes to do this and they’ll work better, last longer, and be easier to use. Wash or scrub tools that are used in the soil, including trowels, forks, shovels, and hoes. A wire-bristle brush is handy for hard-to-remove debris. Sharpen the edges of pruners, clippers, and shovels. To prevent rust, cover tools with a light coat of oil, and dry them with a clean towel before storing.


garden hose

Drain the Hose

Freezing weather is several weeks away, but by the end of the month, start thinking about draining and storing your hoses. When water freezes inside a hose, it can cause the hose to crack. And if that happens while it’s connected to the outside faucet, it can lead to problems with water pressure in the indoor pipes. As you wind up the hose in a circle, remove any kinks that can weaken the rubber.


Garden notes

Take Photos and Notes

This is a good time to walk around your garden and take photos of all the containers, beds, borders, and foundation plantings. Make some notes about things you’d like to change or improve, or plants that you’d like to include next spring. Once the snow starts to fly, it’s fun to look back at the summer garden. It’s also a good time to take a class or two at the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden.


Nina Koziol is a garden writer and horticulturist who lives and gardens in Palos Park, Illinois.