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As we reach the end of the growing season for our region, it is an ideal time to evaluate gardening successes and – ahem – the not so successful. My approach is to take notes for next spring while topics are fresh in my mind. Otherwise, by spring, I’m so thrilled to see everything green up, I forget last year’s problem areas.

Let’s start with perennials and bulbs. Was there any fall color in the garden? If not, and if fall blooms are desired, make a note to purchase a perennial such as mum, aster or toad lily next spring. Or buy them now, if available; be sure to install early in October to allow time for them to establish before winter. (Note: many blooming mums for sale in the fall function as annuals and are not intended for the landscape, so be sure to purchase a hardy cultivar.)

This is also a good time to add hardy bulbs for spring color. If a groundcover such as vinca covers garden areas, insert a few bulbs. Early blooms and letting the vinca mask fading bulb foliage is a win-win. Another idea is to mix daffodils with hostas; again, emerging hosta leaves will mask faded bulb foliage come summer. Plant bulbs in October; cooler temperatures reduce risk of early sprouting. Keep them watered until the ground freezes.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, first frost in Lincoln arrives around Oct. 6 (some years, though, I have watered annuals until Halloween). Whenever first frost does come, observe which annuals are first to die back. If begonias, coleus and/or impatiens occupy a large part of the garden area, there will be a big hole once frost has arrived. Next year, consider mixing in a more frost-tolerant annual such as snapdragon or ornamental cabbage.

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In examining the landscape, is there a spot for a new shrub or tree? Cool fall weather is a great time for moving and installing trees and shrubs. Again, consider possibilities for fall color. Purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichomata), for example, is an adaptable shrub with a showy fall display of lilac-violet berries. Small, pink to lavender flowers bloom in summer followed by the berries, which ripen in September and look their best through October.

How does the lawn look? Optimal grass seed planting time ended today, Sept. 20, but it’s not too late to lay sod. Weed removal and soil prep are keys to success in sod installation. As is watering – at least at the beginning – to keep the surface moist.

Taking time to assess the garden and landscape now will help in planning for next year. Then, sit back and enjoy the winter months knowing what’s ahead come spring.

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Mari Lane Gewecke is a Master Gardener volunteer, affiliated with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus program, and a self-employed consultant.

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