Heading into autumn, you might be wondering how to start putting your yard and garden to bed for the year. Spending a little time now can make your spring gardening more manageable. Cleaning up spent foliage is much easier when it’s just fallen, rather than after its sat under snow all winter. Your soil will also warm up faster in the spring if the sun can reach it directly.
We’ve got 9 top tasks for your fall landscape maintenance checklist, covering the 3 main areas of the average yard: flowers, landscape, and lawn. If you get these 9 tasks done before the winter, you’ll be able to get gardening earlier in the spring—and your plants and grass will thank you for it next summer!
Fall Bulb & Flower Care
1. Dig Up Summer Bulbs:
Summer blooming bulbs that are a bit delicate should be lifted, cleaned, dried, and stored for winter. Each type of bulb can tolerate different temperatures. If you’re not sure which bulbs to lift, our staff at Wallace’s can help you. Things like calla and canna lilies, gladioli, elephant ear, and dahlias are all examples of flowers that should be lifted here in the Davenport. Anything you do lift should be cleaned well. Gently brush off excess soil, then wash thoroughly with a hose. After washing, make sure bulbs dry off completely. Lay them out on a kitchen cooling rack, making sure they’re not touching each other. Once they’re dry, you can store them somewhere cool, dry, and dark for the winter. Somewhere around 45 degrees is the optimum temperature for bulb storage. You can hang your bulbs in mesh or burlap bags, in old pantyhose, or you can store them in clean, dry sand. Check on them periodically through the winter to make sure they aren’t rotting.
2.Plant Spring Bulbs: Shopping for spring bulbs is a fun way to delay the winter blues for a little while. If you plant bulbs, you’ll want to get them in soon. Tulips, daffodils, iris, and hyacinths should be planted about 8 inches deep, 4 inches apart. Crocus, muscari, and snowdrops should be planted about 5 inches deep, 3 inches apart.
3.Divide Perennials: If you’ve got perennials that hit their peak this year, you’ll want to divide them now, before they get crowded. The best perennials to divide now are astilbe, bleeding heart, iris, daylily, lily-of-the-valley, oriental lily, peony, and veronica. The optimum time for splitting perennials is 4-6 weeks before the first frost, which gives them time to establish roots before winter hits. Our first frost in Davenport is usually in mid to late October, somewhere around the 20th.
Fall Yard Maintenance & Garden Cleanup
1.Clean Up Foliage: Cutting back foliage in the garden at the end of the season gives you excellent fodder for compost and encourages the roots of perennials to retain energy for next year. As long as foliage is healthy, you can compost most of it. Make sure it’s chopped up into smaller bits, so it breaks down quickly. Cut diseased areas out of perennials and burn or dispose of them in the garbage—do not compost diseased foliage. Collect leaves from the yard and add them to your compost; dry leaves are the perfect brown matter that your compost needs, and provide excellent enrichment for your soil in the spring. It’s a good idea to leave a few protected corners of the yard with some leaves, dead branches, or foliage to attract birds and pollinators that overwinter. They’ll need a place to hunker down for winter, and if they can find it in your yard, you’ll reap the rewards with plenty of pollination in the spring.
2.Winterize Young Shrubs: If you’ve got young, new, or delicate shrubs, you may want to protect them for the winter. The first thing to do is water all of your shrubs and trees deeply and lay mulch around the base of each trunk. Then, drive in 3 or 4 stakes around the perimeter of each young shrub, and wrap them well with burlap. You can pick up burlap at our garden center, and if you remove it carefully in spring, you should be able to save it from year to year for quite some time.
3.Spread Compost: if you’ve got a composter going, spread a layer of compost over your garden or empty flower beds. Allow it to stay undisturbed over the winter, and work it under in the spring. The compost will break down a little more through the winter under the snow and will help enrich your soil when you mix it in next year.
Fall Lawn Care
1.Aerate: You may have aerated your lawn in spring, but that second round in autumn is even more essential to help the roots of your lawn become as strong as possible before the snow flies. Aerate your lawn in September so the roots have time to absorb as many nutrients as they can. Once the aeration plugs have dried up, you can go over them with the lawnmower to break them up so they’ll crumble back down into the soil layer.
2.Overseed: Pick up some grass seed from Wallace’s. As grass ages, it thins out and develops sparse spots, so it’s a good idea to add new grass seed regularly. Make sure any areas you’re seeding are dethatched first so that the seed is making direct contact with the soil. After you’ve spread the grass seed, make sure you’re watering it every day until it starts to freeze overnight.
3.Fertilize: late in the fall, close to the first frost, spread some slow-release granular fertilizer. Wallace’s recommends Scotts Turf Builder with Winterguard. Adding fertilizer this late in the year, when the grass is going dormant, will encourage the grass to retain the nutrients in the roots. Those extra nutrients will prepare the lawn for a strong start in the spring.
There are many different yard chores you can tackle in the fall to help care your yard for the winter. Even if you only get a few of these done, you’ll have a much easier time getting ready for gardening next spring. And, if you get some lovely spring bulbs in, you’ll have some beautiful pops of color to look forward to as soon as the snow melts.