If you need motivation to perform fall lawn and garden care tasks, think of all the pleasures you enjoyed from your gardens and landscape during the spring and summer. To ensure you get the same results next growing season, take time in the fall to prepare your lawn and landscaped areas for the cold months ahead. Taking care of a few simple garden tasks in the fall is the best way to ensure a good start once the warm weather returns.
With Fall being a critical time to improve the health of your lawn, here are some lawn care tips you can do:
- Remove lawn weeds to minimize competition for available nutrients and water.
- Contact your local county extension office to perform a soil test to figure out your soils pH levels.
- Dethatch and core aerate your lawn to help nutrients reach deep into the root zone and avoid soil compaction.
- Reseed to rejuvenate the entire lawn or fill in bare spots.
- Fertilize your lawn to promote root growth, recover from the summer heat, and prepare for the next growing season. If you live in a colder climate with cool-season grasses, the best time to fertilize is in late summer to early fall.
Based on your soils pH levels, if test results show excessive soil acidity, apply lime for excessive soil acidity or sulphur if there is too much alkaline. Do so immediately because its effects take time to produce results.
If you decide to clean up fallen leaves in the fall, many home owners use a leaf blower or rake to collect their leaves and stuff them into lawn waste bags. Here are some other helpful options:
- Fire up your lawnmower with the grass catcher attached and run over the leaves to vacuum them up. This can help make them more compact for your lawn waste bags.
- If you own a mulching lawn mower, run over the leaves to shred them and return the organic matter back into the lawn.
- Save any leaves you accumulate in a spare trash can or any other dry place and gradually add them to your compost pile. You can also use shredded leaves for garden mulch.
Removing fallen leaves in fall can destroy overwintering insects and removes insulation for insects burrowed in the ground. Many ground-nesting bee species rely on leaf litter to survive harsh winter temperatures. Leaf litter is used as a pupation site for moths and caterpillars that birds rely on to feed their young in spring. Millipedes and spiders use leaf litter for shelter.
After harvesting your final crop of fruits and vegetables for the season:
- Remove all vegetable plant matter from the garden. Leaving it behind could overwinter plant diseases and pests for the next growing season.
- Rototill your garden soil. Excessive rototilling can be harmful, but it is also a good way to keep down weeds in vegetable gardens.
- To protect garden soil from the rigors of winter, plant a cover crop for large beds or apply mulch, which is more efficient for smaller beds.
If you rototill the soil in your garden beds, this is the time to apply lime if soil tests have indicated that soil pH is too low. The effects of lime take several months to manifest, so applying lime in the spring is too late for crops to benefit.
Perennial plants (plants that come back year after year) must be cut back, spent foliage removed, and garden beds mulched as part of end-of-year garden cleanup tasks.
Cleaning up and mulching go together. It's best to do both to keep your garden disease-free and well insulated.
If you don't mulch your perennial beds in the fall, don't clean up spent stalks and leaves. They will serve as a makeshift mulch affording some degree of winter weather protection to perennial root systems.
NOTE: cutting back and cleaning up foliage in the fall does not provide any winter protection for your plants and wildlife. However, it means that your beds will look tidier over winter and be ready for new growth come spring.
Traditionally, the tasks of cutting back and removing spent foliage were performed in the fall when the plants had died back and foliage had browned. However, the latest environmental trend is to wait until spring before cutting down and cleaning up spent perennials plants for the benefit of wildlife. To provide food and shelter for wildlife during the harsh winter months, consider leaving seed heads of perennial plants as food for the birds, keeping hollow stalks intact for the benefit of overwintering beneficial insects and solitary bees, and leaving spent perennial foliage for ground dwelling wildlife.
To a great degree, winterizing trees and large shrubs can be achieved simply by watering them properly in the fall. Here are some tips on how to do that:
- Stop watering in early fall, which triggers trees and shrubs to prepare for winter and prevents new growth that won't be hardy to winter weather.
- After the trees have dropped their leaves and prior to the ground freezing, deeply water the trees and shrubs to give them one last good soak before the cold arrives.
To winterize and protect small deciduous shrubs with fragile branches, use a lean-to or some other type of structure to keep heavy snows off their limbs.
Evergreen shrubs, are the cornerstone of winter landscaping aesthetics, so you want them to be visible front and center in your landscape. So that they don't require winter protection, always choose evergreen shrubs that are cold hardy to at least one USDA zone colder than your zone.