Learning to Grow: Late-summer gardening to-do list

My springtime gardening to-do list is extensive and well-planned. By the time the weather warms up enough to actually get out in the dirt, I’ve spent months indoors pining and plotting and adding bullet points to an ever-lengthening agenda.

But when late summer rolls around? There’s no list (and nary a trowel) to be found. But gardening, even here in the Midwest, is really a year-round vocation, and success comes from thinking a season, or two, ahead. Following are some steps you can take this year to have a healthier growing season next time.

Are you tired of kneeling in the hot sun dispatching weeds and deadheading plants yet? The good news is that the days will get cooler soon. The bad news is the weeds aren’t going anywhere unless you pull them. The heat and humidity of the past month that can be hard on our annual and perennial plants, actually help the weeds flourish. Their competition is weaker, the seeds establish quickly, and many of them will overwinter and come back in the spring if we don’t give them the heave-ho now. And don’t give up on deadheading yet either. Many of the annual plants that gave us so much color through the summer months will actually bloom right up until the frost, with a little maintenance.

Now is also a good time to tend to trees and shrubs. Once they finish blooming for the season, remove dead, diseased, or broken branches and clean up the surrounding area to avoid pests overwintering. Water deeply to make sure they go into fall and winter strong and healthy.

Late summer is a good time for another application of mulch or compost to garden beds. Tidy up, remove any debris, and add a layer of mulch or composted material to help the soil retain moisture now, and provide a layer of insulation against winter weather.

Harvest everything you can from your vegetable garden, and save or share your bounty. Late summer is such a wonderful time for tomatoes and squashes. Staying on top of the harvest is good for your plants, as well as your dinner table. Pick your herbs, dry, and store them now for use in soups and sauces once the weather gets chilly.

Many cool-weather crops like lettuce, arugula, and kale, if planted by the move into September, will be ready for harvest before the snow falls. Sow seeds directly into the ground and tend to them as the rest of your plants are finishing up for the season. You’ll be rewarded with an extra round of produce to take you into the winter months.

• Sarah Marcheschi is a University of Illinois Extension Kane County master gardener. Email the extension office at uiemg-kane@illinois.edu for more information.