Get your landscape ready for winter with a big fall cleanup. It’s easy to knock out the list on a crisp fall weekend and enjoy all that fall has to offer.
Before you begin, it’s helpful to know your average date of first frost in fall. This change in temperature is the threshold for survival for annuals and blooming activity for perennials. Depending on where you live in the country, you may have many more weeks to enjoy your fall garden.
8 FALL CLEAN UP TASKS
1. Fall lawn care. This is the time of year to aerate your cool-season grass lawn. Common cool-season grasses include Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, fine fescue and tall fescue. Aeration makes holes in the lawn and loosens the soil beneath to let oxygen, water and important nutrients reach the roots, resulting in a lush, green lawn. Learn more about lawn aeration.
Fall fertilization should be on your to-do list, too. For a primer on fertilizing, check out this guide.
You will need to cut your lawn one last time before winter. Trim it as short as possible to prevent matting, disease and rodent damage. When the lawn is done, finish by prepping your mower for winter. Change the oil, inspect the spark plug and run the mower until it’s out of gas.
Fall is also the time to reseed your lawn. Generally, you will use three pounds of seed for every 1,000 square feet of lawn.
2. Get a handle on leaves. The leaves in your yard make a fine no-cost mulch that will protect your plants through winter. You will need to shred leaves to encourage decomposition before using. Here’s how to make mulch from leaves:
- Rake leaves into a pile.
- Follow all safety directions and wear gloves and eye protection before the next step.
- Use a leaf shredder to grind leaves, catching the pieces in a bag or large container.
- Or rake the leaves into a wide layer a couple of inches high. Pass over the leaves a few times with a lawn mower, mowing them into smaller and smaller pieces. Rake the pieces into a bag or large container.
- Pile the shredded leaves two to four inches deep around plants. Keep the mulch one inch away from plant crowns. Do not volcano mulch; mulching up to the stems can kill the plant.
3. Refresh mulch. Garden beds typically need a blanket of fresh mulch every three years. Simply “fluffing up” mulch gives garden beds a clean look, allows water to easily reach plant roots and reduces disease and insect damage. When adding new mulch, be sure your new layer is between two and three inches thick. Also pay attention to tender shrubs like roses that need extra protection during cold winter weather.
4. Bring tropicals and houseplants inside. It’s the end of summer vacation for the tropical houseplants you put outside in June. To lessen the shock of a move, first move the plants to a sheltered porch that gets less sun than they’re used to. Let them stay there for about two weeks, then bring them inside. The plants will produce new leaves to replace the dropped ones, once they’ve adjusted. Make the transition slow and gradual, and your green friends will settle in nicely for the fall and winter.
Aim to make the move before the thermometer dips to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and no lower than 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. Prune perennials but don’t fertilize. It’s okay to prune perennials, but do it judiciously. It’s more than okay to leave seed heads and stems for birds and insect habitats through winter. Perennials will benefit from a top dressing of compost and a blanket of mulch and, in fact, may thrive to the point where you won’t need fertilizer in the spring. Adding fertilizer in fall will just encourage growth that will be nipped by bitter winter weather.
Shrubs and trees, though, still benefit from a shot of fertilizer and pruning. Dispense fertilizer lightly and late in fall by using a slow release product at less than the recommended rate on the package. Shape up trees and shrubs by trimming back dead branches.
6. Divide and plant perennials. In the flower garden, fall is the time to divide perennials like hostas, heucheras and daylilies. Wait until after a rain, when the soil is workable, and use a garden fork and spade to split plants and replant them. Learn how to divide perennials.
7. Dig up and store bulbs. Get more life from tender bulbs like dahlias, caladiums and cannas when you dig them up in fall. Set the bulbs and tubers on a tray to dry for a few days, brush off the dirt and nestle in boxes lined with peat moss. Bring the boxes inside and store in a cool, dry place until early spring when they can be planted again.
8. Refresh containers and window boxes. Take a fresh look at container plants (window boxes, too) and make plans for cool weather designs with fall flowers and foliage. While most annuals will last until first frost, they can get leggy and played out. Before you make the big switch, freshen your summer annuals for a few more weeks, especially if the weather is still hot and you’re a few months away from the first frost. Try trimming leggy stems with pruning snips and giving plants a dose of a plant fertilizer to revive them.
Take cuttings from annuals like coleus and bring inside to overwinter in water or potting soil. You can dig up herbs like parsley, rosemary, chives and thyme for overwintering indoors, too. Just plant in pots and place in the kitchen windowsill.