Warm fall days are great for installing holiday lights. It is much easier to wrap branches with strings of lights on warm days in mid- to late October than on cold days in late November or early December. Use LED lights to save on power and to use more strings on a circuit. Buy warm-color white LED lights if you want to match the color of the commonly used white incandescent lights. Cool-color LED white lights have a blue cast to them. Wrap branches of your trees with strings of lights to accent the tree’s form.
• It is best to avoid using gravel with crushed limestone for the base of hardscape features such as walks, driveways and patios. Limestone increases the alkalinity of soils and makes growing some plants more difficult if they are planted adjacent to the limestone base. Plants such as witch hazel and river birch that are sensitive to alkaline soil conditions will start to become chlorotic as their roots grow into the limestone base. There are alternative materials to use for the base of hardscapes that do not contain limestone.
• After a killing frost, remove dead plant debris from annual and vegetable beds. Sanitation is especially important if you have had disease problems in your planting beds this year. Remove all diseased foliage or fruits and do not add the affected materials to your compost pile, because most home compost piles do not get hot enough to kill disease organisms.
• Tim Johnson is the director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.