As sultry August gives way to the cooler months of September and October, fall’s lower temperatures and shorter days signal it’s time to get busy in the yard and garden. “Fall’s cool weather makes it a great time to work outside,” says TOH landscape contractor Jenn Nawada. “Giving plants some attention then sets you up for a healthier landscape come spring.”
Early on, before the leaves start raining down, focus on the lawn. Core-aerate to reduce soil compaction, add compost to improve soil fertility, and overseed to encourage denser turf. Tackling these tasks first allows seedlings to sprout and develop strong roots —then you can move on to the cleanup work ahead.
Tidy up beds and borders
Once autumn leaves have finally fallen, job number one is clearing them out of planting beds. Start by raking them out onto the lawn (where you’ll pick them up later). A narrow shrub rake with stiff metal tines is best for this task, as it can reach under and between plants without getting tangled in them. “Raking beds also fluffs up the soil so water and air can get in,” Jenn says. It exposes weeds, too, which she pulls by hand so they don’t winter over.
As she rakes away the leaves, Jenn generally lets any existing wood mulch stay in place, unless it’s a mat more than 3 inches thick. She’ll break that up and thin it out with a rigid steel rake: “Compacted mulch limits how much water and air can reach the soil —you don’t want to leave it.” To encourage strong growth next spring, she trims back perennials, such as iris and daylily, to about 4 inches high, but leaves the upright stalks of ornamental grasses and some tall perennials, like coneflower, for winter interest.
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