Though the calendar tells us otherwise, it’s hard to believe it’s time to put away our summer things and start getting ready for fall. But as the many-hued leaves remind us, there’s no time like the present to strap on your gardening gloves and grab your shovels, rakes, and trimmers. To make outdoor chores that much easier, we’ve put together this guide on how to prep your yard and garden for fall, over the next few weekends.
What to do now:
- Give the lawn a short haircut—about 1 inch long. Aerate it, pushing a core aerator (available for rent at most farm and home-improvement stores) in a zigzag or crisscross pattern, over your lawn. This will reduce all the compaction that happens during summer mowing and party season, and will help nutrients reach the roots of the grass, for a healthier lawn next year. We like to do this when the lawn is still moist, but not sopping wet, after a rain.
- Add aged compost and grass seed to any patchy areas. Water those spots lightly—just a few minutes at a time—two or three times a day, until the seeds start to sprout. Then give them a moderate soaking once a day for a few weeks.
- Weed the heck out of your garden or flowerbeds, and even your potted plants. Removing as much as you can now will make it simple to remove the handful of stragglers that will pop up throughout the fall, and will make your beds much easier to work come spring.
- Pull up any spent annuals, and any plants that have developed fungal diseases, to keep them from spreading to other plants. Snip off any damaged areas on otherwise healthy plants, and deadhead past-their-prime blooms on perennials.
- Divide crowded perennials and transplant to their new homes. Water transplanted perennials moderately once a day for the next few weeks.
- Trim back spent, branchy perennials and ornamental grasses. Be careful not to cut them back too severely (this can be done toward the end of the season, if recommended for that particular variety of plant). Check with your local nursery on any plants whose trimming needs you’re unsure of.
- Check your garden or flower beds for any areas that are looking a little bare. Dress them with topsoil and use a hand rake to gently integrate with the existing soil.
- If the leaves have begun to fall, as they have here in the Northeast, start raking. Have at it once a week until most of the leaves are gone. It’s tempting to wait until all the leaves have fallen, but if you do, they’ll become a wet, sticky “tarp” that’s about 10 times harder to remove and can choke the growth of grass seeds, plus encourage the development of mold and other fungi.
- If you’re planning to plant new bulbs, now’s the time. Check out our easy tutorial here.
What to do over the next few weeks:
- Mulch like it’s going out of style. Mulching in the fall is actually healthier for plants than mulching in the spring, because it helps protect the roots against moisture loss and damage from frost. Add 2 to 3 inches of fresh mulch—from the garden store or nursery, not from the local municipal piles, which often contain not-so-healthy diseases that can get passed on to your plants—around flower beds, trees, and shrubs.
- Clear out your gutters. Okay, this is not technically the yard, but overflow from leaf- and pine needle–choked gutters or an outburst from a clogged downspout can create trenches or divots in your lawn during heavy rains. So find a reputable handyperson in your area to do it, or have a friend help you set up and hold a ladder while you tackle this decidedly unglamorous job yourself. Pick up a pair of sturdy disposable plastic gloves and a gutter scoop, http://www.homedepot.com/p/InvisaFlow-Gutter-Getter-Scoop-8300/203829209 one of the least expensive and most helpful tools in a homeowner’s arsenal, before setting to work.
- Thoroughly clean all outdoor furniture, umbrellas, and accessories, once the weather has turned cold enough that outdoor entertaining is no longer a realistic possibility (sniff!). Using a soft brush and some bleach or an eco-friendly bleach alternative, give them a good scrubbing and rinse well with a hose. Allow outdoor furniture and accessories to dry fully in the sun before applying protective covers or stashing them in the shed or garage for the winter.
- Once the bulk of the leaves have fallen from the trees, mow the lawn to about 1.5 inches. This final trim of the season will help get it ready for its upcoming dormancy.
- Wrap less hardy shrubs, like boxwoods, in burlap, or cover them with sandwich-board-style plywood protectors before heavy rains and snow hit. Small and young shrubs and trees and can covered with upside-down plastic flowerpots weighted with rocks along the rim. Don’t use buckets for this, unless they have some holes cut into the bottom; you still want rain to be able to penetrate to the plants’ roots.
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