Summer is drawing to a close, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to put away your lawn and garden work ethic. If you want a vibrant and healthy lawn and garden in the spring, there is plenty of lawn maintenance left to do before winter arrives.
Preparing your lawn and garden for winter will give you less yard work to do once the weather warms. Here are some steps you can take to get ahead of the game this fall.
Step 1: Keep Up on Lawn Maintenance
Keep mowing your lawn right up until the first frost, but keep the grass length longer than 2½" throughout the fall season. When you mow for the last time, use a mulching mower. The mulch will keep as much nitrogen as possible in the soil over the winter and into the spring. Don’t forget to check your lawn for weeds. Use a dandelion weeder to pop them out of the soil so they won’t return in the spring.
As leaves collect on your lawn, rake them regularly to keep your grass healthy. Leaves can smother and kill the grass if left on your lawn. Rake up as many leaves as possible and bag them for disposal or you can also shred the leaves and spread them on the lawn as compost.
Pruning is a vital part of fall yard cleanup and maintenance. Prune any dead, diseased or out-of-control branches from trees and shrubs. Use a handsaw to cut off any branches that are dead, infested with insects or disease, or that have grown too close to power lines and pose a safety threat. Bypass loppers work well for smaller branches. Always cut away from yourself so the branch does not fall toward you.
Always keep ladders, tools, equipment and yourself at least 10 feet away from any overhead power lines.
Make sure to wear safety goggles when working with a handsaw or loppers.
Observe basic ladder safety procedures to avoid serious injury from a fall. Invest in an adjustable ladder stabilizer that attaches to the ladder and braces onto the roof.
Water your trees and shrubs deeply one last time before winter, paying special attention to any newly planted foliage. And, don’t forget to bring your potted plants inside when overnight temperatures dip below 50ºF. Spray potted plants with a garden hose to remove dirt and wash away pests before you bring them in.
After the first frost, cut back perennial growth to just a few inches above the ground using a sharp bypass pruner, garden shears or scissors. Throughout the winter, leave the stems above ground to protect the crown. The crown is the part of the plant at ground level where the stem meets the roots. Make sure you thoroughly pick up any plant parts you cut back and any other plant debris that has died and fallen off. Remove any weeds and other garden debris as well, disposing of it in yard refuse bags. Leaving this organic matter in your garden could bring disease, insects and rodent infestation, as they are all attracted to decaying vegetation.
Step 2: Dethatch and Aerate Your Lawn
Thatch builds up when grass clippings are not chopped finely enough with a mulching mower or if excessive clippings are not removed after cutting. To prevent thatch from accumulating, rake your lawn after mowing—especially at the end of the growing season. If you have thatch buildup, you might need to dethatch.
You should dethatch if thatch is more than ½" thick. Use an iron rake or a thatch rake to cut through and rake off thatch. This will also scarify the surface. For large lawns, you may want to consider renting a walk-behind dethatching machine.
Lawn aeration in the fall will give you healthy grass in the spring. Aerating allows for greater movement of water, fertilizer and air. It also increases the speed of mulch decomposition and encourages deep root growth, so be sure to aerate before applying fertilizer. You can aerate your lawn with a hand cultivator or a mechanical aerator.
For moderately compacted soil in a limited area, systematically prick holes in the soil with a spading or digging fork. Holes should be 2" to 3" apart and 1" to 2" deep. If you're dealing with a larger lawn area or you want to make the task easier, there are several types of push spike or coring aerators you can rent or purchase. Some models look a little like a manual push mower with spikes or star-shaped wheels instead of blades. Others are designed as attachments that fit behind a power mower. For medium-to-large areas, you’ll want to rent a gas-powered spiking aerator.
Lawn aeration is generally easier to do when the soil is moist, but it won’t work as well if the ground is wet.
Although aerating can be done any time of year, it's best to do it in the fall after dethatching or after a thorough raking.
Step 3: Plant in the Fall for Spring Blooms
Start planting bulbs now for the best spring bloom. Many common bulbs can be planted in fall, including tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. Tubers such as daylilies and dahlias are also popular choices for the fall planting season. As you work with bulbs and tubers, squeeze them to find the healthiest ones. A good bulb or tuber will feel firm to the touch. Throw away any spongy-feeling bulbs or tubers. Use a blanket of compost or mulch several inches thick to cover your newly planted bulbs during the winter months. Fall is also the best time to plant cool-season grasses. Varieties such as perennial rye, bluegrass and fescue do well this time of year for filling bare spots. Overseed bare areas to allow seeds to germinate.
Step 4: Fertilize Your Lawn and Garden
It’s important to fertilize before the first frost. Experts at your locally-owned True Value® store can fill you in on everything you need to know about lawn fertilization, including how to find the right fall fertilizer for your grass or flowerbeds. They will probably recommend a fertilizer designed for fall use. These fertilizers have high potassium content, which better equips the lawn for winter months, and helps the lawn resist disease and drought. Load your spreader over the sidewalk or driveway to prevent spills that can damage vegetation and apply the fertilizer evenly over the entire lawn or flowerbed. Take care not to fertilize roses, however, because this discourages winter growth and makes your roses more vulnerable to extreme temperatures and conditions.
Step 5: Prepare Your Deck or Patio
Remove patio furniture and store it in the garage or wherever there’s space. Wintry conditions can be hard on decks and patios, and any furniture on them. If that’s not an option, invest in furniture covers that are made to withstand the harsh winter weather. Before you store or cover anything, clean your furniture properly. Wipe each piece with damp cloths and dry with towels. Remove cushions and pillows and follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions.
Use a broom to sweep away leaves, needles and other debris from your deck and between the boards. You can remove mildew with a solution of 3-quarts water, 1-quart oxygen bleach and ¼-cup ammonia-free liquid dishwasher detergent. Add this solution to a garden sprayer and apply liberally to the deck’s surface. Let the mixture set for about 10 to 15 minutes.
If you don’t plan on grilling during the winter, you may also want to cover your grill or store it out of the elements.
Step 6: Clean and Repair Gutters
Check your gutters after the bulk of leaves have fallen for the season. Clogged gutters can damage your home and cause basement flooding when snow melts, so it’s important to clean your gutters before winter hits. Use a ladder to get onto the roof, and then remove leaves and twigs with gloved hands and/or a large scoop. Place the debris in a trash bag, carefully dropping it to the ground when it’s full. Use a hose to flush out the gutters after you’re done cleaning. With the hose running, you’ll also find any leaks that need to be repaired.
You can easily patch a leaky gutter yourself. Scrub the inside of the gutter around the hole with steel wool. With metal snips, cut a patch of metal flashing that is slightly larger than the hole. Use a putty knife to coat the back of the metal patch with asphalt flashing cement or gutter patch and press into place. Smooth any adhesive that oozes out with gloved hands.