Ways to Prepare Your Lawn and Garden for Fall

The gentle sound of falling leaves on the lawn can mean only one thing: It’s time to start getting your…

The gentle sound of falling leaves on the lawn can mean only one thing: It’s time to start getting your home ready for the cool season. Depending on what kind of plants and grasses you have in your landscape, this might mean doing just a few little jobs, or it could spell a whole laundry list of tasks. Here’s a short list of ways you can prepare your lawn and garden for fall.

Deal With Fallen Leaves

One of the biggest fall chores for most homeowners has to do with all those crispy leaves that end up everywhere. For some, raking and bagging is the right answer, but it’s not ideal for everyone. After all, leaves are just nutrients waiting to be used.

“Instead of raking leaves, try mulching them with your lawn mower. The ground-up leaves will add nutrients and organic matter to your soil,” advises Eric DeBoer, agronomist at Simple Lawn Solutions in Centerton, Arkansas. “Do not allow leaves to collect on the lawn canopy, they will block sunlight and harbor disease.”

Another way to use leaves is by applying them to trees, landscape perennials and vegetable beds. If you can score extras from your neighbors — who will almost certainly happily part with bags and bags of them — you’ll be able to nurture even more plants.

“Woody crops like fruit trees love to surround their roots with fungi,” explains Alex Melvin, founder of landscape design firm Permacultured, based in Austin, Texas. “Leaf mold is an easy way to give these trees what they want. To prepare leaf mold, gardeners can gather leaves in large plastic bags, poke holes all over the bags, and spray down the leaves. The bags should sit in a shady part of the property and get sprayed down every couple of weeks. After a few months, fungi will start to colonize, and the leaf mold will be ready to place around fruit trees.”

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Prepare Your Lawn

With the leaves out of the way, you can tackle whatever care your lawn may need in the fall. This varies based on the type of grass you have, but if you have cool-season grasses, fall is the right time to do a lot of heavy work like aeration and dethatching.

“Cool-season lawn grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, tall fescue and fine fescues are best dethatched in the fall,” said DeBoer. “Heavy dethatching of cool-season lawns too late in spring can weaken them right before the summer stress season begins. Aerification of cool-season lawns can occur in early spring or fall.”

You can rent tools to both aerate and dethatch your lawn, which is a simple but time consuming process for homeowners. Just make sure to do these jobs while the grass is still actively growing and give the lawn time to heal from the necessary damage these techniques inflict before it frosts.

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Cover Your Plants

Perennial plantings need to be put to bed at the end of the growing season, to help better protect them from the freezing temperatures that are to come. Most gardeners choose to use organic mulches, since they will slowly break down and add nutrients to the soil, but not every plant can benefit from the same kind of mulch. “Trees and woody crops (non-herbaceous perennials) typically grow best in fungus-dominant mulches,” said Melvin. “The best mulches for plants of this category are wood chips and bark mulch. Adding leaf mold is also a great way to kickstart the breakdown of woody mulches.

“Herbaceous perennials, on the other hand, often do better with non-woody mulches that tend to be more bacteria-dominant. Because herbaceous perennials typically die back over winter, the mulch cannot be so heavy that it blocks new shoots in the spring. In my experience, straw builds soil faster than almost any other mulch in these situations.”

It’s also a great time to add compost to empty vegetable beds or to plant cover crops that can help hold the soil in place throughout the winter and early spring. Plow them under in the spring, while they’re still growing, for the best return of nutrients to your garden.

Get Garden Equipment Ready for the Off Season

Of course, plants aren’t the only things homeowners will need to deal with as the days turn cold and the nights get longer. Lawn equipment also needs some care before winter sets in.

“It is best to give your mower a good cleaning in the fall before you store it so you do not give any rodents an opportunity to make an unwanted home,” said Eric Halfman, lawn and garden expert with John Deere in Dodge County, Wisconsin. “Servicing your mower yourself or at a local dealership in the fall is also a great idea to beat the spring rush that occurs every year. Dealerships typically have maintenance kits you can buy so that you can do the work yourself. Or an even easier option is to have the dealer do the work for you. Your mower should be serviced once a year for the best results.”

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Make a List and Follow Through

The fall is a busy time in the lawn and garden for many homeowners, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Once you’ve figured out what needs to be done, make a list of small tasks that can be each handled in a few hours, then put them in order of when they’re best completed. For example, you might want to aerate and dethatch the lawn earlier, mulch after, and then take care of the garden equipment toward the end of fall.

Getting everything accomplished in a timely manner is vital to your garden success. Having a system will make it go so much faster and easier this fall.

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