As the weather changes and the cold settles in, it’s the perfect time to get outside and tackle fall lawn and garden cleanup projects. Knocking out this fall lawn and garden to-do list winterizes your yard, setting it up to take off and green up quickly once the warm weather returns in the spring.
Rake and mulch fallen leaves
A yard full of fallen leaves can be an intimidating project, but it’s best not to leave them on the lawn through the winter. They can harbor insects and diseases and may suffocate the grass. Rake them up, or use your lawnmower to mulch them, and then spread the mulch around your trees, shrubs, and flowerbeds to boost the soil’s organic matter and nutrients.
Aerate the lawn to break up soil compaction
Your soil can become compacted after playing in the yard and walking back and forth as you mow. You’ll need to break it up to keep water from pooling on the surface and guarantee nutrients make their water down to the roots.
You can use a handheld aerator for small yards, but bigger lawns may require a larger, walk-behind aerator. These are available to rent from local home improvement stores or hire a lawn care company.
Feed the lawn
Even though your lawn goes to sleep for the winter, it still needs nutrients to keep it healthy. An important part of fall lawn and garden cleanup is to give the grass a dose of a fall lawn fertilizer containing high phosphorus before winter sets in. This application encourages root growth and builds nutrient stores, improving your lawn’s ability to survive the cold.
Mow the grass short
Before you put the mower away for the season, drop the deck height lower than usual and give it a closer cut. Mowing it short helps the soil dry out quicker in the spring, leading to faster green-up.
Clean out flower bed debris
All of those pesky leaves love to get caught up in flowerbeds, and dead foliage from your annuals and perennials isn’t going to clean up after itself. But if left there for the winter, this debris makes a perfect home for rodents, insects, and diseases to hang out. (Plus, cleaning out slimy, wet, decomposing plant material in spring isn’t any fun.) So, take a few hours to clean everything out of your flower beds before the snow flies.
Cut back and divide perennials
The cooler fall weather is the perfect time to cut your perennials down for the season and divide overgrown clumps. Carefully dig plants out of the ground and split them into smaller chunks, adding them to other beds. Doing it now saves time in the spring and expands your garden without draining your wallet.
Protect cold-sensitive plants
Add mulch around the base of your sensitive perennials, roses, and shrubs to protect them from the freezing winter temps. You can also wrap plants with cloth barriers if they aren’t cold-hardy or tend to suffer from winterkill.
Plant spring-flowering bulbs and new shrubs
Fall is a great time to add new shrubs to your yard and plant bulbs that bloom early in the season, like daffodils and hyacinths. Doing it now means these plants will start growing as soon as temps are suitable in late winter or spring.
Clean up the vegetable garden
Once you harvest all of the garden, pull out the annual vegetable plants and cut back anything that regrows in the spring. If you have a compost pile, add a layer of finished compost to the soil so it’s ready to go in the spring.
Prune trees and shrubs
Spring-blooming perennials (forsythia, lilacs) should be cut back now to risk pruning blooms off early next season. Use this time to cut back anything overgrown and trim shrubs into the desired shape. Prune out any damaged, diseased, or dead branches or low, overhanging limbs that could cause trouble when overloaded with snow or ice come winter.
Winterize the sprinkler system
Sprinkler blowout is a fall to-do you don’t want to overlook. Shut off the water to the system, and drain as much as possible. Then, use pressurized air to blow all remaining water out of the lines and heads to prevent freezing and resulting damage.
Drain the water from everything
Along with getting all of the water from the sprinkler system, you want to drain it from hoses, fountains, and other water features. The expansion can damage or even split and crack your items if the water freezes in the winter. It’s also a good idea to store these things somewhere they’ll stay dry and out of the elements.
Clean and oil tools for storage
Lastly, don’t just toss your gardening tools in the shed until spring. Give them a good cleaning, sharpen anything that needs it, and then add a light coat of oil to the meat to prevent rust. Linseed is a good option, but vegetable oil can work in a pinch.