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Fall Garden Care

How to Winterize Your Yard in Fall

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Do you need some motivation to perform fall garden care? Well, just think of all the joy your planting beds provided you during the spring and summer. Don't you want more of the same next year? Assuming you do, there are tasks you can undertake in autumn to help your landscape get off to a good start once the warm weather returns.

But there's more than the garden to think about. There are a number of serious lawn care chores and related tasks for the landscaper to complete to winterize the yard in fall and ready the landscape for the next growing season. Let's take a brief look at some of the chores you should be performing in autumn, from fall garden care and lawn work to winterizing trees and shrubs and taking care of your equipment.

Don't Forget About Your Lawn in Autumn

During autumn, don't stop trying to improve the health of your grass for next year -- or at least trying to maintain the status quo. For one thing, you'll want to try to remove broadleaf weeds and thereby remove some competition for available nutrients and water. Along the same lines, have a soil test done to check, for example, on the soil pH of your lawn. If the test should show excessive acidity, apply lime immediately (its effects don't kick in right away). If, on the contrary, your soil is too alkaline, apply sulphur.

Everybody knows that we should rake leaves in fall as part of the winterizing process for lawns, but many don't know exactly why we rake leaves. But anyone who has ever raked them knows that it's tedious work. Some people choose to use leaf blowers, instead. Here's another option: before putting your lawn mower to bed for another winter, fire it up (making sure the grass catcher is attached) and run over the leaves with it. Sort of like "vacuuming" the leaves off your lawn. When you're done, be sure to provide the proper lawn mower care to winterize it.

Many people who have lawn problems do not realize how detrimental thatch build-up is to their grass. An advantage to raking leaves (as opposed to resorting to gadgetry) is that you can dethatch your lawn at the same time: a vigorous raking will extricate some of the thatch that may be plaguing your lawn. But for cases of severe soil compaction, you'll probably have to use the technique known as core aeration.

Overseeding Lawns

Then there's the matter of overseeding. Consult the general guidelines offered in the following resources:

Note: You should already have applied fertilizer lightly to cool season grasses in late summer / early fall (the "bridge feeding"). Since these grasses are most active during periods of moderate weather (not too hot, not too cold), it is precisely at this time that they can best use the nutrients provided by a fertilizer. Fertilization promotes root growth and helps the lawn recover from the summer heat, while preparing it for the next growing season. For fertilizing lawns in late fall, purchase a product that has a low middle number for NPK; for example, Scotts' "WinterGuard" Turf Builder has an NPK of 32-0-10. Such fertilizers are designed to help you winterize lawns.

Fall Garden Care: Winterizing Annual Beds, Vegetable Beds:

After harvesting your fruits and flowers, fall garden care should ascend to the top of your agenda. Remove old plant matter from the garden, placing it in your compost bin. Leaving it behind in the garden would invite plant diseases next growing season.

Some people choose to rototill their garden soil at this time, although some experts say that excessive rototilling may do more harm than good. But some people rely on small garden tillers to keep down weeds in vegetable gardens. Rototilling in fall may seem premature; but it will make your spring gardening work go much easier. Drain the old gas out of the rototiller afterwards.

If you are going to rototill the garden, this is the time to apply lime (if soil tests have indicated that your pH is too low). The effects of liming don't manifest themselves for several months, so liming in the spring is too late for next year's crop.

Additional fall garden care for annual beds and vegetable beds includes:

  • Protect your topsoil from the rigors of winter. You have two options here:
    1. You can plant a cover crop for large beds.

    2. Or you can apply a mulch. Mulching is more efficient for smaller beds. And landscapers have a ready source of mulch in the leaves that they rake.


  • Some garden experts recommend spreading compost on the soil as well at this time. I personally disagree with this strategy, feeling that it is a waste of compost. I recommend keeping your compost protected in a compost bin during the winter, waiting until planting season to spread it in the garden.

Winterizing Trees and Shrubs:

  • Winterize small deciduous shrubs that have fragile branches with a lean-to or some other sort of structure to keep heavy snows off their limbs. Deciduous shrubs provide no interest in winter anyways, so you are not losing anything visually by covering them. Evergreens, by contrast, are the cornerstone of winter landscaping aesthetics.

  • To a great degree winterizing trees and larger shrubs can be achieved simply by watering them properly in the fall, since the winter damage that they sustain often stems from their inability to draw water from the frozen earth. "Avoid watering trees in late summer or early fall before the leaves fall so they can 'harden off' for winter," states Sherry Lajeunesse, in a Montana State University Extension article. "Then in late fall, after deciduous trees drop their leaves but before the ground freezes, give both evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs a final deep watering to last them through the winter." The same source also reminds us to "water under the entire canopy area and beyond," to cover the entire root area.

But you're not done yet. On Page 2 we turn to how to winterize the fall garden....

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