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Expert Tips

Backyard gardens can slash your grocery bill, give you more control over the types of fertilizers that come into contact with your food and make for a great hobby!  A study conducted by the National Gardening Association determined that the average family with a backyard garden will save an estimated $600 a year by planting and harvesting their own produce.  If you have already made the plunge into planting your own home garden, make sure to invest some time into cleaning up your garden in the fall.  Here are a few tips in regards to maintenance and cleanup that are guaranteed to give your garden a healthy start for next spring.

1. PULL THE WEEDS.
Roll up your sleeves and pull those weeds!  Remove any other debris, vines, leaf cover and old plant material from the area.  Also, be sure to remove cages and stakes that once supported your vibrant vegetation.

2. CLEAN AND SANITIZE GARDEN EQUIPMENT.
Cages, stakes and other reusable equipment need to be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before being stored.  Use a bleach water solution to wipe the equipment down and let air dry before storing.  Garden tools can easily rust if left out for a long period of time; keep replacement costs down by cleaning and stowing all equipment inside away from harsh elements.  All of your garden tools should be securely stored inside a tool shed or garage after every gardening session.

3. PLANT A COVER CROP OR MULCH THE GARDEN.
You have decided to not plant anything for fall leading into the winter months.  No problem. Prep your garden plot for the spring by planting a cover crop or laying down mulch.  Both a cover crop and mulch provide nutrients and protection to the soil during the cold winter months. Cover crops are rich in nitrogen and easy to plant. Simply scatter the seeds in your garden plot and water.  Clovers, rye grass and barley are all great options, but make sure the cover crop you choose will be tolerant of your winter climate before sowing.  Mulch also serves the same purpose.  Just cover your garden plot with about an inch or two of wood-chip mulch, no need to till. Mulch will ensure that your soil doesn't wash away, keep moisture within and prevent weeds from haphazardly sprouting while your garden is on a hiatus.

Don’t forget about your yard!  Keep your yard looking tidy well into winter with these handy tips:

4. LANDSCAPE.
Collect those pesky fall leaves, trim dead limbs and cut back any perennials you have growing. Dead tree limbs can be dangerous during strong winter storms and heavy snow, so trimming them now will eliminate the possibility of a hazardous event occurring.  A little pruning of your perennials will allow for healthier more vibrant foliage come spring.  Make sure to also remove annuals from garden beds as they can become riddled with pests.

5. AERATE THE LAWN.
Heavy traffic and use can cause soil to become compacted.  If rain begins to stand or pool on the grass, it’s time to aerate your lawn.  For small yards a garden fork will do the job; however, consider a walk-behind aerator if you have a large yard.  Powered or walk-behind aerators essentially pull out 3-inch deep soil plugs at a much faster pace than a simple garden fork. Either way, perforating your lawn will allow water, air and fertilizer to penetrate deep into the soil resulting in a stronger root system.

6. FEED THE GRASS.
Fertilizing and feeding your grass with a nitrogen rich mix will allow your grass to thrive and bounce back quickly after normal wear and foot traffic.  Feeding your grass is a great way to revitalize the grass and soil, so that it returns to that envious rich green color. Select a fertilizer that works specifically for the species of grass in your yard.  You can purchase anything from synthetic to organic fertilizers at your local home and garden center.  Water a few days before fertilizing and then water a final time after applying the fertilizer.

7. MOW THE TURF ONE LAST TIME.
You will begin to notice your grass grows at a much slower rate as temperatures drop.  Mow your lawn, but be sure not to trim too short.  A freshly mowed lawn not only looks nice, but also reduces the risk of fungal diseases, so roll up your sleeves one last time before the first frost.

8. MULCH AROUND YOUNG TREES AND PLANTS.
Refresh and insulate in one easy step by adding mulch to existing beds and around young vegetation.  Cover the areas around the plants with about 3-inches of a wood-chip mulch. Mulching these areas will help to protect new plants during the cold season and prevent water runoff.

Don’t make dangerous assumptions, call or click before you dig!  Utility lines could be buried just beneath the surface of your dig site.  Hitting a utility line could disrupt service, cause serious harm to you or result in costly repairs and fines.  It is equally important that you premark your project with white paint and flags before notifying JULIE.  For every digging project call JULIE at 811 or 1-800-892-0123 before breaking ground to have your lines located for free by our members.  You can also submit a “locate request,” via E-Request by visiting illinois1call.com or contact a call center agent at any time.  Call center agents are available 24/7 to process requests.  If you choose to begin your project over the weekend, remember to notify JULIE by Wednesday at 4 p.m.  All projects must begin within 14 days from your notification to JULIE. For additional information please reference our Homeowner’s Guide.