Outdoor Fall Maintenance for Your Yard

Fall shouldn’t be a time to let go and ignore your garden. I know, the usual chores are obvious.

? Most everyone will need to rake leaves. Whether you want to save the chore for one huge and heavy weekend of real work or you’d rather break up the chore into several weekends throughout the fall, this is a chore that everyone knows is just a part of fall maintenance. A word of caution, however. I will warn those who think they should put this chore off for a single marathon weekend Not to do it! The thick mat that accumulates will definitely damage your turf and encourage pests fungus to grow. Leaving a mat of leaves on the ground will also damage cool season grasses like Kentucky Bluegrass, which need the fall sunshine to flourish.

I prefer to use a mulching lawn mower with a bag attachment and to empty all the ground up leaves, etc. into the corner compost for spring gardens. It Is one great way to use what your mow, rake or blow and save you money come Spring on compost at the garden shops. I always use a rake now and then as well, to de-thatch the lawn of dead and deeply planted clipping which prevent the best aeration of the healthy grass. This website stresses the importance of raking and watering in the fall: http://library.livinghome.com/Gardens/Yard-to-Bed.htm

? Composting your cuttings will save you time and money. It will provide you with some very healthy loamy additive for your gardens and newly planted shrubs. There are dozens of web sites that can advise you on how to create a compost, from very simple, to more complex, systems. http://vegweb.com/composting/ will give you some basics. A compost is simply an area where you toss leaf and grass cutting (no seed heads Please!) and the leftovers from your kitchen, manure and green plant cuttings. The compost will need to be turned every so often to aerate it so the microbes can do their work transforming the “trash” into good soil additive. It needs water once in a while too. Compost is really a living colony of bacteria and microbes and worms that cannot flourish in a parched, packed or dried out site. If you start a good compost in the early fall and tend to it every month or two over the winter it should be ready to use in the spring. The test as to its readiness is simple. If the components have been transformed into a dirt-like composite where it is difficult to recognize the original components, then it is likely finished. It should smell earthy, somewhat like good, dark dirt.

? Mow your lawn until it stops growing. Mow higher as the season gets cooler so you don’t stress out the established turf. One thing about mowing in the fall. It’s so easy and is even a pleasurable exercise since the weather’s cooler and walking in the fall sun is both healthy and fun. You can use the mowed grass in your compost but make sure that seed heads have not formed because you don’t want to create a compost that will eventually breed a host of grass in your garden!

? The next common chore is watering of all trees planted within the last three years. Do NOT put up your hose or sprinkler until the ground freezes (the first hard frost). This is especially important if the summer has been particularly dry and stressful. You can water every weekend while watching TV or puttering around the house or out shopping. Just put a watering wand under the tree or shrub and let the water sink in ten inches out toward the drip line. You can shove a post into the ground ten inches and when it fills you will get some sense of how long it takes to accomplish the task. For trees planted two or three years ago water a bit outside the drip line as well. Watering will save the life of your valuable plants and make your gardening efforts worth while. If you neglect this simple task, you are taking a risk of losing a gorgeous tree or shrub that you have your heart set on making a permanent feature of your yard! Just Water, that’s all there is to it.


? Herbicides should be applied in the fall to prevent the emergence of broadleaf weeds in the spring and even in the early winter. Dandelions and crabgrass are particular villains in your struggle to maintain a healthy, beautiful lawn. There is no “typical” schedule for applying herbicides now. I have used several different brands over the years. Scotts, and Ortho products are old-time favorites. Beyer is also a great brand and they make some fine products. My suggestion is to go to your garden dealer or to any large chain and take a look around. If you see a brand that sounds like something that suits you simply apply according to the directions on the sack.

? Some people fertilize their lawn in the fall, but this should be done lightly. Do NOT fertilize warm season grasses in the fall. These are Bermuda, Zoysia and buffalograss. Apply 1 lb. nitrogen to 1,000 sq. ft. of turf for cool season grasses like rye and fescue. They will benefit from the added nutrients; just be sure to apply exactly as the product instructs on the sack or bottle.
? Pruning in the fall. Many sites tell you to steer clear of pruning in the fall since so many flowering shrubs set their blooms on old canes. It is strongly advised not to do any major pruning on any woody plants in the fall. Just don’t do it. What you should do is to remove the ground succors from plants like the crepe Myrtle. Privet, yew and roses won’t be hurt by pruning of long canes or some wayward branches.

If you have a tree with an overhanging branch that is likely to become laden with heavy snow or ice and break, then, by all means, lop it off. But be sure you do it correctly and that there is ample reason to consider the branch dangerous or unable to sustain the heavy burden of winter precipitation. The idea is to avoid the temptation to “shape” your bush or tree in any way. That is best left till hard freezes in the winter when the sap is down and the stress on the plant is minimal. At that time you will also be better able to get a sense of the shape of the entire plant without the obstruction of leaves. You can see limbs crossing at odd angles and limbs that will simply obstruct the interesting form of the tree. This site gives some tips on pruning in the fall: http://www.freeplants.com/pruning.htm

It gives a list of plants that benefit from a light fall pruning: One thing that you can always do in the fall, however, is to remove dead or damaged branches or canes from trees and shrubs. These will only rot and might cause diseases to enter the healthy adjoining canes. This will enhance the overall health of the plant in the coming season.

? If you love flowers and especially perennials that come back year after year, fall is definitely the time to plant them .Dig a hole no deeper than the container that houses the plant, but make the how twice as wide. This is very important. It gives the tender roots a fertile area to spread out. Do not plant the crown of the plant below the soil, as this will retard growth. Just at the surface is appropriate. Use part native soil mixed with a good planting soil amendment to fill in the hole. There are many of these types of soil conditioners at your local nursery. Ask your clerk to help you find the one that suits you the best. It is also a good idea to add some fertilizer to the planting several weeks after the plant has acclimated itself to its new home.

The potassium and phosphorous content is what you need for good root growth and heavy bloom. There should be little or no nitrogen content (the first number in the mix). After you have planted your perennial and patted down the soil and watered, it is very wise to mulch the area well. This will protect from water loss in the fall and the coming winter and it also helps hold in some of the heat from the winter sun. Your plant should be very strong and healthy next spring!

Ridding your yard of leaves, composting, watering, light pruning, mulching and planting perennials are really the basics of your fall chores. If you take care to accomplish these tasks your yard will be so much more enjoyable next spring and your won’t have to spend time tending to cleanup when you should be fertilizing and enjoying your lawn and pretty flower gardens and trees!

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