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posted: 9/8/2013 1:00 AM

Make the most of summer's last gasps

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By Mary Boldan and Mary Moisand

Q. Now that we are in the final weeks of summer, what can I do to make the most of the growing season?

A. There are several ways to make the most of this time of year.

Search garden centers for end-of-season sales

If available, consider purchasing native perennials or shrubs that are suited to our region and climate. These compete well with weeds and other pests.

Once established, native plants are attractive in the garden and require less attention. Perennials such as black-eyed Susan, coneflower, coreopsis or cardinal flower are late season bloomers that can add color to your surroundings.

Sale plants might be root bound, but they often offer good value for home gardeners.

Root-bound plants have a root system which encircles the pot and may have masses of roots extending from the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.

If you select a plant with these characteristics, remove the plant from the pot and loosen the roots by cutting down the sides of the root ball loosening the roots.

This will not harm the plant and will encourage the roots to extend out into the planting area.

Divide perennials and gather seed

A good time to divide your perennials is now. Also, take note of plants that will need dividing next spring. Some signs that perennials need to be divided include the following:

•Center of plant has died.

•Plant failed to flower as much as in previous years.

•Plant is taking over the growing space of plants around it.

Use a shovel or pitchfork to divide large plants, or a sharp knife for smaller plants.

Collect seeds when they are ripe and just before they are shed from the parent plant. If plants have heads, pods, or capsules, remove these first, let dry and remove the seeds later.

After seeds have been collected, place them on a paper lined baking sheet and leave them in a warm, dry location for three weeks to thoroughly dry.

Dividing perennials and collecting seed will enable you to increase your collection of plants as well as share with family and friends.

Plant cool season vegetables

Now is a good time to consider planting certain vegetables for harvest in the fall.

The months of September through early November are ideal for growing cool season vegetables such as spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, snap peas, kale, collard greens, radishes and lettuce.

Most cool season vegetables can withstand a light frost.

The quality of cool season vegetables will be of higher quality than when planted in the spring due to diminished heat stress and temperature swings.

Cool season crops can also be covered with frost "protection blankets" to protect the crops from early frosts and extend the growing season even further. These can often be bought at local garden centers.

After planting your cool season vegetables, begin your garden clean up as other crops finish.

Take notes on your garden layout so you can rotate plant location during the next growing season.

• Provided by Mary Boldan and Mary Moisand, University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners. Master Gardener Answer Desk, located at Friendship Park Conservatory, 395 Algonquin, Des Plaines, is open 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays. Call (847) 298-3502 or email[/URL].">

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