Prep your lawn for the winter.
If you live somewhere that experiences all four seasons—including a cold and snowy winter—you likely have cool season grasses. Some of the most popular types are Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and fescues. These grasses thrive in cold weather, greening up earlier in the spring and staying green longer in the fall.
As fall is coming to a close, mow your lawn one last time and spread fertilizer over the grass to give it a head start in the spring. If you’re noticing a thick thatch layer in your grass and water pools and then runs off your lawn, it could benefit from being aerated. With cool season grasses, aeration is best done in the fall.
Before temperatures drop to freezing, make sure all the water has been blown out of your irrigation systems. Pipes and hoses that still have water in them over the winter can freeze, crack, and burst—and that requires a lot of work and money to repair. Save yourself the hassle and winterize your sprinkler and drip lines. Some of your plants may still need some supplemental watering, but you’ll want to do this manually (by hose or watering can), instead of leaving water to freeze in pipes.
Do some general cleanup.
Over the summer, grass may have crept into your planter beds. Fall is a great time to tidy up shaggy edges with a shovel or edger. It’s also a great time to pull weeds and annual flowers that are on their way out. Prune any dead, diseased, or damaged branches from the trees in your yard. Be sure to completely discard (rather than compost) any diseased branches and sterilize your pruners after touching affected limbs to prevent spreading infection to healthy branches and trees.
There is usually an abundance of dead leaves in your yard this time of year. Don’t pack them into plastic bags and send them to the landfill! Leaves are an organic mulch, which is basically gold. Spreading a layer of leaves over your flower beds will insulate roots, protect pruned flowers, and add nutrients to the soil as the leaves break down.
Leaves are also a prized addition to your compost pile and vegetable garden. If you shred the leaves, they’ll break down faster, but shredded or not, they’ll hold moisture, help with compacted soil, and provide nutrients for your plants.
Bark mulch provides the same benefits to your yard and garden and fall is the perfect time to apply a fresh layer. Your plants will fare better over the winter and as the bark breaks down, the soil will continuously improve. For most planter beds, a layer of mulch that is about three inches thick is ideal.
Cut down some of your plants.
Fall is a great time to cut down some of the perennial plants in your garden. The best time to cut is after the first couple of frosts, when cold weather is more settled in. Cutting the plants down can help protect them from disease and rot, keeps the garden cleaner, encourages new growth, and looks better in the spring.
However, not all plants should be cut down until springtime and some shouldn’t be cut down at all. While there are differing opinions, here are a couple of general rules.
Anything with a woody stalk shouldn’t be cut down in the fall (for example, sage can be cut in the spring). Keep plants that add visual interest or feed birds through the winter (willow branches look amazing against the snow, and plants with berries or seed pods/heads can feed birds and other small animals).
Cut down things like irises, lilies, peonies, beebalm, phlox, columbine, yarrow, hostas, and astilbe. Healthy pruned plant matter makes a great addition to your compost pile. For larger plants like peonies, you can throw a thick layer of mulch over the cut stalks to insulate them through the winter.
Remove anything that looks diseased or mildewy, and throw it out completely, rather than composting it. Be sure to clean your pruners with a sterilizing solution before pruning other healthy plants.
Harvest produce and protect your garden.
If you’ve still got produce growing in the garden, you’ll want to protect the sensitive plants from frost when it dips down into the thirties at night. Cold weather crops like carrots, potatoes, spinach, peas, beets, lettuce, and radishes will be just fine. In fact, the first frost actually makes some fruits and veggies taste better because it triggers extra sugar production.
Sensitive plants like tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumbers, squash, and melons can’t handle freezing temperatures and would appreciate getting tucked in before you turn in for the night.
There are many plant covers made specifically for protecting produce from frost, but you can also use things like gardening fabric or thin old blankets and sheets. Gently cover your plants with them (staking them down with a rock or two around the edges and corners) before you go to bed, then take the covers back off in the morning. Easy to do, and your sensitive plants will live to see another day.
Add new plants and bulbs.
‘Tis the season for planting bulbs! Classic spring flowers like hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, crocuses, and many more grow from bulbs. These bulbs need a cold period to store up enough energy to produce the first rays of brilliance, fragrance, and hope in the spring. Plant bulbs in the fall, tuck them in for a nice winter’s rest, and prepare yourself for a beautiful show in the spring.
Fall is also the ideal time to transplant trees and shrubs in your yard. Air temperatures have dropped to a more hospitable level, soil temperatures are still warm, and autumn usually brings rainy weather. During this time of year, plants experience less transplant stress and can focus on establishing a solid root system. Check out our Fall Planting article for a more detailed guide on why and how to add plants to your yard in the fall.
In addition to planting new bulbs and adding transplants to your yard, fall is also an excellent time to divide overgrown perennials. Perennial plants that have overgrown their space or look like they’re struggling from being overcrowded would benefit from being divided and transplanted in other parts of your planter bed or yard. Peonies, irises, lilies, and hostas are common perennials to divide in the fall.
If hot summer weather has kept you from enjoying your yard, fall is the perfect time to roll up your sleeves and spend some good time tending to your landscape. There’s plenty to do, and the work you do now will save you time in the spring! What autumn landscaping projects will you be tackling this season?
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