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It's getting to be that time of year when some gardeners -- like me -- actually have some guilt feelings about their gardens.

Guilty because finally, we are relieved to know we will have time to do something other than gardening.

Not that we don't love our gardens but we are ready to put the growing season behind us and begin putting the gardens to bed for a long winter nap.

At the same time, there is still garden work to be done in anticipation of next year's gardening season planting spring bulbs, especially the Big Three . . daffodils, hyacinths and tulips. Can you possibly envision a spring garden -- especially Spring 2000 -- without these glorious hybrids?

But despite the approach of fall and gardens going down, you can still keep parts of the garden blazing for several more weeks with America's most popular fall flower. . chrysanthemums.

If you don't have mums scattered throughout your gardens, not to worry . . go buy them

The nurserymen have been growing mums since spring and they are just now bursting into bloom and, as John Cartonia describes, "they will give you color in your garden right through the first few hard frosts."

Cartonia and his employees, at Perry Nursery on 5203 Seneca St., have filled the greenhouses with hundreds of mums in a wide range of colors.

While they will grow in any location, "they do best in a sunny location," Cartonia said. "After planting thoroughly, water well but do not fertilize until they begin growing next spring.

"Also, mulch the plants after several hard frosts with straw or evergreen branches to protect the plant from uprooting during the winter when soil freezes and thaws from time to time."

Cartonia also emphasized "do not prune back the branches until next spring."

So with mums to enjoy while we work, let's get started with a to-do list of chores.

If you get through them all, it will go a long way toward making next spring much less hectic.

-- Lift and divide large, overgrown clumps of hardy early and mid-summer bloomer perennials, i.e., bleeding hearts, Japanese and Siberian iris, baptista, astilbe, balloon flower, Oriental poppies, shasta daisies, monarda, hosta.

-- Plant, divide or move peonies. The very best planting weeks are from mid-September to November. Remember that when planting, not to plant too deeply or the peony will not flower. The upper most eye of the root should be no more than two inches below the ground level. Peonies often do not bloom the first year after planting and often it is the third year before they reach their true color.

-- Dig up dahlia tubers and canna bulbs after the first frost blackens the foliage. Cut down the stems to about 4 inches, gently dig up the entire tuber cluster or canna bulb, shake off excess soil and let them air-dry in a cool, dry place. After drying off, cut off any remaining foliage. Pack the canna bulbs in a few layers of clean vermiculite, peat moss or excelsior.

Unlike the cannas, the dahlias never attain full dormancy so they should not be allowed to dry completely in storage. Place the tubers in slightly damp peat moss or vermiculite in a box lined with a plastic bag, loosely close the plastic and the box and store in a cool, dark place.

-- Plant spring bulbs. For those of you competing with deer for the flowers, there are what the professionals call "deer-resistant" bulbs that begin from the earliest springtime -- crocus, snowflake, grape hyacinth, winter aconite -- followed by daffodils, allium, freesia, cyclamen and bellflower, to mention a few. Most of these bulbs are great naturalizers so once planted, they will multiply each year.

For those whose gardens are not targeted by deer, plant as many bulbs as possible in each area for a spectacular spring show. Dig compost into the bed or add an organic fertilizer over the planting site before planting. Most bulbs should be planted about three times as deep as they are tall although I have been told by horticulturists, "with your cold winters, plant deep." So, maybe rather than the usual six inch depth for most tulips, you might try going down nine to 10 inches.

Spring bulbs can be planted as long as you can dig into the earth.

-- Trees and shrubs that were planted this year must be given a heavy final watering before the ground begins to freeze in late fall, according to the experts at Cornell Cooperative Extension. Mulch three to four inches deep, keeping the mulch back several inches from the trunks.

If you have tender small plants, protect with plywood boxes or burlap shields.

-- Roses must also be protected. After the first heavy frost, remove leaves and any other debris from the rose garden. Hill up the soil around the rose with more soil to 6 to 8 inches. For additional protection, particularly for the hybrid teas, grandifloras, floribundas and miniatures, use a collar around each bush to hold the protecting soil in place. These collars are available at the garden stores or you can make your own from burlap or wire mesh.

Remember not to cover roses too early!

-- Fountains and statuary must also be protected. The best protection is to bring the statuary into the garage, cellar or other protected area unless it is a winter-resistant piece.

Remove pumps from fountains and drain all water from the shell or bowl.

-- As foliage turns yellow on perennials, cut it back and remove along with weeds leaving the gardens as clean as possible for spring.

-- Lawns can be given a new life in the fall as it is the best time to take lawn inventory. If there are brown patches or clusters of weeds, now is the time to dig up the patches with a spading fork and fill the area with sod. It may be possible to get seed growing before the winter winds blow but sodding, at this time of the year, is simpler, quicker, more effective and less expensive in th long run.

Lower the mower height to two inches and for the last mowing, down to one inch. This encourages the grass to send out shoots from the base of the plant that will thicken the turf next spring.

Fall, according to a very detailed softback -- "Smart Yard - 60 Minute Lawn Care" by Jeff and Liz Ball -- "is the best time to fertilize a lawn since the nutrients go more toward developing the all-important root system of grass plants than toward growing more foliage. Fall fertilizing increases grass density, root growth and drought tolerance. It improves fall to spring color and decreases weed problems, spring mowing and summer disease problems.

"The trick to fall fertilizing," the authors write, "is to time it so the grass is approaching dormancy but the ground is not frozen."

In our area, the window of opportunity is from late September through early November.

"Do not fertilize too early in the fall," "Smart Yard warns, "or you may get a rush of green blade growth that is vulnerable to damage from frost.

Early September is a great time to aerate, overseed and topdress but too early to fertilize.

-- Then there are the leaves. When the first leaves start to float down from the tree tops, this is the signal that fall has begun and it is time to winterize your garden.

Some leaves are needed as mulch or winter blankets on the garden beds but the rest must be raked, shredded or hauled away -- ideally to a compost pile -- or over the winter they will smother the grass and kill it.

-- Finally, don't forget those houseplants that have spent the summer outside.

Before bringing them in, check carefully for bugs, give a good washing with insecticide soap, prune, repot if necessary, and if not, add a top dressing of fresh soil.

Their green foliage and flowers can be the best therapy when the outside is a blanket of white.

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