Fall is the time of year for pumpkins and hot cocoa, sweaters and boots. It’s also the perfect time to winterize your lawn and garden so they’re ready for spring. With a few good hours of maintenance, you’ll maximize your lush lawn and beautiful flowers and veggies next year.
Preparing your lawn
If you haven’t yet, rake your yard or vacuum up the leaves with a leaf catcher attachment on your mower. You can compost them or spread them out on the lawn and mow over them to shred them into pieces, which can then be raked into flower beds for mulch. Remove any broadleaf weeds such as dandelions, which can compete with grass for nutrients and water.
If you are raking your leaves, you can dethatch the lawn at the same time by running the tines through the top level of soil to loosen it. If you mow instead or have turf that will be disturbed by dethatching, aerate the soil to remove small plugs of dirt. This also loosens the top soil, allowing for better absorption of water and nutrients. This should be done approximately one month before the first frost, so mid-October for the south and earlier in northern climates. Finally, lower the blade setting on your lawn mower to the lowest setting for the last two mowings of the year to enable the grass to absorb the most sunlight.
Fertilize your lawn to feed it before the winter, preferably with a slow-release, all-natural fertilizer. Caution: If you need to use herbicide, note that selective herbicides target specific seeds or weeds, whereas non-selective herbicides destroy everything green. When you can, use spot treatments of all-natural formulations such as horticultural vinegar or clove oil. Not only will these do less damage to surrounding plant life, but your bees and beneficial insects will thank you as well.
Fill in bald spots in your yard with a lawn repair mixture of grass seed, quick start fertilizer, and organic mulch. Water these patches thoroughly and every other day for two weeks, and water your lawn weekly if you’re not getting rain. This time of year, plants absorb as much water and nutrients as possible to prepare for winter. This is also the time of year to plant trees and shrubs so that they develop deep roots before summer’s heat. Lightly prune any dead or damaged limbs, and protect the trunks of small trees and shrubs with wire mesh to keep away pests.
Preparing your garden
If you have a vegetable garden, pull any remaining plant life after you harvest. Till the soil and cover with mulch or fall vegetables like lettuce, broccoli and spinach. Walk around and assess your flower garden. Which plants did well? Are any overgrowing their space? Now is the time to divide perennials or overgrown plants and replant the more vigorous clumps, throwing away any diseased plants and composting the rest. Weed your garden area and deadhead spent blossoms. Remove annuals and dig up non-hardy bulbs, and consider planting garlic or cool weather annuals. Apply mulch after the first freeze to protect the soil and keep weeds away.
In cooler climates, plant spring flowering bulbs in October. In warmer areas, refrigerate the bulbs and plant in mid-to-late November. Clean out debris under roses and protect them by mounding dirt over their central crown or bud; don’t prune them. Replace summer plants in window boxes with cool weather flowers.
Other Fall maintenance tips
Prepare your tools for winter by cleaning the mower and gardening tools and oiling the metal. Clean your storage area and get rid of dated materials such as insecticide. Cover your compost bin or pile. Drain and bring in your garden hose and turn off the water at the source. Empty fountains and drip irrigation systems. Refill bird feeders to encourage birds to stick around and eat insects. Move container plants indoors. If you’re growing herbs, harvest and dry them or move them indoors to a well-lighted setting. Finally, prepare your snow blower for use.
This seems like a lot of work, but it’s not. You’re literally laying the groundwork for a stronger lawn and garden system in the spring. Your plants will be sturdier and you will be happier.Maria Cannon