Fall outdoor checklist — Get your yard and garden winter ready

I love working outside in the fall. It’s refreshing, and the tasks are so enjoyable. I also find myself daydreaming about next year’s flower beds, eager to map on paper all kinds of new plans! As with most outdoor work, though, it seems there’s always something I’ve missed! So I came up with this checklist of outdoor fall to dos. (I always feel better when my to dos are tallied on paper, don’t you?)

Some of these tasks will apply to you only if you have a garden, or flower beds, or a lawn, for that matter. So you can use this checklist to help you come up with your own. Or simply check off the tasks that don’t apply to you — it’ll give you a head start!

a child playing in fallen leaves in a yard

• Rake leaves. If there aren’t many, you can mow them instead. In fact, the lawn will appreciate the nutrients. Otherwise, if you have a compost pile, toss them in there. Or make leaf mold like Kevin at At Garden for the House. (I haven’t tried this, but I’m intrigued!) If none of these is a good option for you, skip the burning and fill leaf bags. (Even if burning leaves is allowed in your community, it’s bad for air quality and wastes all those nutrients!) 

• Pick up sticks. Do this before your final mowing.

• Plant grass seed. Fill in patches or plant a new lawn. Fall is the perfect time, thanks to the cooler temps and rain showers. Because the temps are cool while grass continues to grow, it’s also the best time to lay sod, if you’d rather go that route.

• Fertilize your lawn. Here’s a good article at Garden Helpful on fertilizing your lawn organically.

• Aerate your lawn if the soil is compacted and you have cool-season grass, such as ryegrass, bluegrass, or fescue. (Warm-season grass, such as zoysia and Bermuda grass,  grows in the late spring or early summer, and so should be aerated in the warmer months.) Here’s a good article on aerating your lawn from Lawn Chick.

driveway framed with grassy lawns and trees with yellow, orange, and green leaves

• Cut your grass until it stops growing. Most experts recommend keeping it at about a three-inch height. This is low enough to reduce the likelihood of snow mold. (Snow mold is a fungal disease that kills grass that bends and mats down as the ice and snow melt.) At the same time, three inches is tall enough that the grass won’t be damaged or shocked, making it hard to recover in the spring. 

• Weed all planting beds. You’ll be so glad you did when spring arrives! Consider leaving dead plants — unless diseased — until spring, though, to provide a winter habitat for birds, bees, and butterflies. Untrimmed plants also provide some winter architectural interest in the garden.

• Dig up tender bulbs such as cannas, elephant ear, and dahlias to store for winter.

• Collect and store seeds from any annual plants you’d like to propagate next year. 

• Plant fall bulbs, such as daffodils, hyacinth, iris, and tulips. These can be planted any time before frost.

• Bring plants and flowers indoors that you’d like to overwinter, such as geraniums.

a dug-up yellow flowering plant siting on a deck

• Mulch tender perennials, including any that were recently planted, to protect them from winter weather. 

• Shelter young trees and susceptible bushes (with burlap, for example) from harsh winter weather and wildlife such as deer and squirrels. 

• Freshen mulch in flower beds and around trees.

• Top your garden soil with a two-inch layer of compost. 

• Plant cover crops to provide nutrients and prevent erosion of soil in the garden. (Turn the crops over in the spring.) 

• Plant shrubs and trees. Yes, in the fall! The soil is actually warmer in the fall than in the spring. The shrubs and trees won’t grow much yet, but they’ll get their roots going a bit before winter. (Evergreens are exception; they’d prefer to be planted in the spring.)

• Trim deciduous trees and bushes, but wait until late fall, after they have dropped their leaves. (Trimming before then will cause the tree to send out tender new growth, and it’s not a good time for that!)

• Continue to water trees and bushes if Mother Nature isn’t taking care of it. This will help prepare them for winter. 

a bird sitting atop a wood fence with a tree in the background

• Clean and store your garden tools.

• Drain hoses and store. Drain irrigation lines, too.

• Repair fences, trellises, garden bed frames, etc. Disrepair will be even more apparent in the winter!

• Empty plant containers and store them. (Freezing soil can cause pots to crack.)

• Clean birdfeeders and birdbaths in prep for winter visitors.

You’re on a roll! Checkout what maintenance tasks your home needs, too, this time of year. 

Is your garden and/or yard ready for winter? Do you have any chores to add to our list?

You might also enjoy:

How to store your lawn mower for winter

How to clean and store outdoor furniture for winter

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