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Thursday, Sept. 23, 2004 09:35 pm

Get busy now, do less next spring

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I haven't met a gardener who has ever found the end of his or her "to do" list. September is a good time to complete projects we didn't get done this summer.

The first garden chore I recommend is an easy one: Spend an evening sitting on your garden bench, reflecting on the beauty of your garden. Take notes about how your garden fared this summer. A journal can be a gardener's best friend. Many of us can't remember where we planted the tomatoes last year, when we first noticed Japanese beetles, which annual was our favorite and where we bought it. You get the idea: Even with the best of intentions, our memory will fail us next April. Make a sketch of the vegetable garden. Vegetable-crop rotation is important in reducing disease and insect problems.

The next chore requires a bit more effort. It's time to clean up the garden. Remove and dispose of diseased plant debris. In perennials taller than three feet, cut the foliage back to about two feet. Healthy plant debris can be composted.

Here are a few other gardening chores:

• Flowers and herbs. Replant annual gardens with frost-tolerant annuals such as pansies and flowering kale. Add compost and shredded leaves to bare spots in the garden. Discontinue fertilizing of most perennial plants.

Prepare houseplants for their journey back inside by inspecting them for insects, both on the leaves and in the soil. Wipe leaves and containers with a damp cloth.

Purchase spring flowering bulbs for October planting. Harvest and dry herbs. Be sure to harvest annual herbs such as basil and cilantro before the first frost. Perennial herbs such as sage and oregano can be lightly harvested. Dig and repot tender perennial herbs such as rosemary for overwintering.

• Lawns. Continuing mowing the grass as long as it continues to grow. Mow when the grass is three to three-and-a-half inches tall, removing no more than a third of the grass' height at one time. This should maintain a height of two to three inches.

• Vegetables. Keep harvesting produce so that the plants remain productive. Spinach, lettuce, and radishes can be planted for a fall crop. Harvest pumpkins and winter squash when they have hard rinds. After the final outside garden chore is done, don't forget to clean your garden tools. High-quality garden tools are a great investment, but they must be cared for. Gather all the tools in one spot, and don't forget the pruning shears, saws, and lawnmower blades. Remove debris with a stiff wire brush, or use a putty knife to get rid of caked-on soil. Sharpen blades with a file or sharpening stone. Wipe the clean metal blades with an oily cloth before storing them in a dry place for the winter. If you aren't sure how to sharpen your tools, or the blades are very dull or nicked, take them to a professional for sharpening.

Take advantage of the cool temperatures and enjoy fall. The more you can get done now, the less you will have to do in the spring.

Composting class

Composting is an economical way to turn unwanted yard waste into beneficial organic matter for your garden.

To learn the ins and outs of composting, attend a 30-minute hands-on presentation by University of Illinois Extension masters gardeners.

The program starts at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 28, in the demonstration gardens at the U. of I. Extension Building at the state fairgrounds.

For more information, call 217-782-4617.

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