Take the Autumn to Prep for Winter

Young woman cleaning tree limbs in the fall.

With shorter days and cooler temperatures, fall has officially arrived. Autumn is the perfect time to get outside and do some seasonal garden maintenance. While cleaning up your lawn and garden in the fall makes your landscape more aesthetically pleasing, it is also an integral part of the healthy vegetative cycle. Many plants do much of their own preparation for seasonal changes; however, you can help them along and ensure that your soil remains vital by giving them a little attention before winter sets in.

1. Groom and Feed Your Lawn

Fall is the best time to give your lawn some TLC. Remove thatch, fertilize and reseed between mid September and mid November, depending on where you live. Winter fertilizers help turf to develop strong and healthy roots. Consider overseeding your lawn with a cover crop such as winter rye. Your grass will look nice and green all winter long and come spring, the winter rye will add essential nutrients back into the soil.

2. Trim Your Perennial Flowers

deadheading flowers

In most cases, fall brings closure to the prolific perennial blooms of summer, as flowers use the last of their stored energy to close the season. While the tops of perennials may die off with the onset of cooler weather, the roots underground stay very much alive. Cutting the brown and dead foliage on perennial plants as close to the ground as possible will not interfere with the roots and keeps the garden neat while reducing the chance of pest infestation or disease. Be sure to rake up all cutting debris and dispose of it. Only compost what is healthy. Cover cold sensitive perennial plants with a light layer of mulch for added winter protection if you live in a cold region. It is ok to leave dried seed heads and ornamental grasses that look good, as they provide food and shelter for wildlife and add some winter interest to the garden.

3. Collect and Store Herbs

Many herbs can be collected for storage and winter use, right up until the first frost. Gathering herbs towards the end of the season is an excellent way to ensure your crops do not go to waste. Herbs can also be grown indoors all season long and make an attractive sun porch or kitchen window decoration.

4. Address Seasonal Vegetables, Annual Plants, and Weeds

Leaving spoiled fruit and vegetable vines, and other spent annual plants in the garden over the winter is not a healthy move. Not only is it unsightly, but it could also draw pests and critters to your yard, and create opportune conditions for the spread of pathogens. Once annual plants have died, they should be removed completely. Simply pull the spent plant from the ground, roots and all, and place in your compost pile. Don't forget to spend some time pulling out the weeds.

5. Build a Compost Bin

compost bin with wheelbarrow and basket full of leaves

Fall is a great time to embrace the composting movement. Simple compost bins fall in the easy DIY column and provide an economical and practical way to deal with the endless supply of leaves that many of us have in the autumn. Fill your compost bin with fresh leaves, grass clippings and pest free plant material. Cover the bin and you should have some great compost by spring.

6. Love Your Soil

Fall is one of the best times to take a soil sample. The soil sample will provide you with an in-depth look at the health of your soil. Remember, your plants are only as healthy as your soil. Amend your garden soil in the fall by adding plenty of rich compost or aged animal manure. Adding composted material in the fall allows time for the material to break down over the winter. Another great option is to plant a cover crop in your garden. Cover crops, such as winter rye, grow over the cooler months and provide nutrients to the soil.

7. Protect Cold Sensitive Plants

For those that live in regions that experience harsh winters, it is imperative that sensitive plants be protected. Adding mulch material, such as compost, straw, pine needles, shredded leaves, or aged manure is an excellent way to protect hardy perennials from chilly temperatures. More sensitive plants can be covered with garden netting. For those plants and shrubs sensitive to cold winds, you can construct a simple windbreak with garden fabric. Young trees can also be protected from frost and wind damage by using tree guards. Plastic cloches will protect low growing groups of plants. If you have roses, especially hybrid varieties, and live in the north you need to help your roses survive the winter. Although it takes an extremely hard winter to kill a rose altogether, many roses suffer dehydration from winds and freezing temperatures. Proper fall preparation will help to ensure that your roses look their best come spring.

8. Plant

Fall is not only an opportune time to clean up your garden, but also to plant a variety of trees, shrubs, perennial plants, bulbs, and winter annuals. In many places, annuals such as pansies, winter kale, and snapdragons provide a burst of color all winter long. A bonus is that many home and garden centers sell perennial plants in the fall for a discounted rate. For best results, be sure that you plant before the soil becomes too cold.