The days are shorter and nights are cooler. The promise of my summer garden is fading fast. Those small green tomatoes still on the plant will never ripen.
Every year, I plan to fertilize and irrigate my way to a longer lasting garden to no avail. I can’t control seasonal changes. I include zinnias and mums in the garden to extend blooms into fall, but even those colorful flowers eventually start to fade.
How does a gardener weather the end of the growing season? By planning for next spring.
Begin the process by drawing a rough sketch of the yard including trees, shrubs and perennials. I keep this sketch in a journal-type book, so I can compare it with previous years’ plantings. I look at what worked and what didn’t work and build on that. Sometimes, I am surprised to find that something I planted did not come up at all.
Then the planning begins by perusing bulb and seed catalogs.
Purchase bulbs first, because they must be in the ground before it freezes. Many spring bulbs return, so it helps to have a sketch from previous years to show what and where bulbs are already planted to prevent slicing through previously planted bulbs while planting new ones. I might choose to boost the same color and variety of bulbs or add a new color or variety to the mix. I always have red tulips, but this year I added yellow tulips and they complemented each other.
It’s fun to add something new each year, but remember to check the hardiness of bulbs and consider the planting location before planting. Bulbs planted in their preferred conditions will perform better, the blooms will last longer, and they will return more reliably.
Next, look at seed catalogs. This is a great activity for cold winter months. If starting seeds indoors, you have until March or April before beginning. Most seeds planted directly into the ground must wait until there is no longer danger of frost in mid to late May.
Keep receipts for detailed information and make notes on where you plant new bulbs on your new sketch. I find that I sometimes forget where I planted a bulb once spring rolls around. There are computer programs to do this, but I think a good old-fashioned sketch works best, even if you aren’t especially talented in the drawing department.
Darlie Simerson is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. The “Learning to Grow” column runs weekly during warmer months of the year. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information. Feedback on this column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.