By Sam Wasson
Updated Nov 3, 2022
Gardeners are busiest during the early days of the spring and summer seasons. But, as the cold weather of winter gets closer, important jobs still need to be done. Taking proper care of your lawn and garden before the ground freezes will make future work easier while improving your crops’ quality next spring. From seeding your lawn to tilling your flower beds, let’s go over all the most important steps you can take to prep your lawn and garden for winter.
Ask any seasoned homeowner, and they’ll tell you that lawn care is a year-round job. Insects, particularly damaging beetle species, wasps, and ants, will kick their thoraxes in gear come fall and begin to prep for the colder seasons. As a result, some of the best times to prevent lawn pests are in late summer and early autumn. Furthermore, you can take advantage of the heavy late-season rains and cooler temperatures to do some highly beneficial lawn prep, making next year’s lawn care much easier.
Weeding your yard is the first thing we recommend doing as temperatures begin to cool. Weeds will have already grown and released their seed heads, making weeding during this time of year a better option, as you won’t be spreading more of these pesky plants as you pick them. The job will be easier, as the consistent rain will make the soil softer. Late-year weeding also goes a long way in helping your grass seeds grow, as, with fewer weeds, your grass seeds will have less competition for nutrients and water.
Certain grass seeds are known for being temperamental and difficult to grow. But, to see the best results, homeowners should begin sowing seeds during the late summer to early fall. There are a few reasons for this:
Remember that this advice applies to most grasses, but some, specifically warm-season grasses like Bermuda and St. Augustine, will fare better with early-season planting. Before growing any grass seed, check to see which grass grows best in your climate and plan your sowing accordingly.
If you’ve ever worked with sod, you know that laying it is back-breaking work. It’s heavy, wet, dirty, and time-consuming to place. Technically, you can lay sod any time, but it’s advised to lay it during the late summer or early fall (very early in the spring also works). The cooler temperatures make the work much easier, and the consistent rain will help the sod take root and grow faster. Additional benefits to growing sod later in the year include:
Aerating is always a good idea for any high-traffic area of your lawn. Generally speaking, it’s best to aerate your lawn during the peak growing season for most grass species. Warm-season grass will react to aerating best during the late spring to early summer, while cool-season grass prefers late summer to early fall. However, you may wish to consider fall aeration for warm-season grasses, depending on how much aerating you need to do and the prevalence of weeds in your area. The many holes the aeration process creates can act as the perfect vehicle for weeds to thrive and grow, making fall aeration the right option, even for warm-season grasses.
Pests are a persistent problem and pain for all homeowners. Different pests will lay eggs which then hatch each season, making prevention a year-round job. For the fall, several species of insects can pose a serious threat to your lawn, including:
Late summer is valuable for all gardeners as it allows them to prep their beds and seed new plants for the next season. It also allows time to apply amendments (like compost or fertilizer), weed, clear out any remaining pests, and prepare all their tools and equipment for next spring.
Weeding during the early fall is extremely important. Many weeds will have already released their last wave of seeds for the season, allowing you to remove the remaining stragglers without the risk of spreading them further. The cooler temperatures and more moist soil also make the job of weeding much easier. By clearing out weeds now, you’ll reduce the work you need to do next spring. Removing weeds from your garden beds will give fall vegetables and perennials more room to grow and less competition for nutrients.
One of the most important fall chores is deadheading. This gristly named practice is when you prune the dead or wilting bulbs of flowers to make room for new growths. As the summer ends, many blooms, even on perennials, will wilt. By nipping these fading flowers now, you leave plenty of room for more buds and blooms in spring. Some plants, like roses, will not grow new buds if the old ones aren’t deadheaded, so this job is a must for every floral gardener.
Culling or removing rotten, dead, or otherwise infested plants is never a pleasant job, but it’s necessary. If one or more of your plants has become infected with a fungus, invasive insect, or other problem that may spread to the rest of your garden, you’ll want to remove it before adding new fertilizer. Failing to do so may spread it to the rest of your field or further infest your soil. During the late summer, always go through your plants, checking under their leaves and the bases of their stalks for any abnormalities. If you discover any diseased plants, you should always dispose of them and never add them to your compost heap. At this time, you should also throw away (or compost if not diseased) any annuals that have died off.
Once your diseased plants have been removed, your next step should be prepping your soil for your fall and spring plants. Over the spring and summer, working in your garden can result in compact and dense soil. Dense soil is not ideal for growth, meaning you’ll want to till it again at the season’s end. Using a garden rake, pull up the first few inches of soil, remove any remaining roots or straggling weeds, and give the top layer of the soil a good mix.
Once your bed is tilled, add a small 1 to 2-inch layer of fertilizer (or compost) over the bed. Mix this fertilizer with a spade, creating an even distribution across the garden. Next, to protect against burrowing pests that might try to dig in over the fall, add a layer of mulch, like bark or woodchips, to the top of the bed.
Many plants, namely perennials, flowering bulbs, and cover crops, benefit greatly from a late summer or autumn planting. By seeding these perky perennial plants in autumn, they can grow and establish root bases before the first frost and will be ready to pop up, thaw, and create a myriad of spring blooms. These plants, in particular, can be beneficial for your garden, as they will spring up early and attract pollinators at the beginning of the gardening season. Here is a list of all the best flowers to seed during the fall season for a beautiful spring garden:
Perennials and bulb flowers aren’t the only plants that react well to the cool soil and heavy rains of late summer and early fall. Many vegetables and herbs do best when planted late in the season, only to sprout for harvest in the late fall or early next season. What follows are some great late-season additions to a vegetable garden you can seed as a part of your fall prep:
If you want to start next season off right, there are some late-season chores you’ll want to take care of in preparation. From prepping your compost bins to cleaning and accounting for tools, there are plenty of small tasks every good gardener should check off their list come late summer.
If you compost, late summer is the perfect time to prep your bins and equipment. The massive amounts of organic matter from leaves, tree limbs, and dead plants come fall will make amazing compost. However, you can’t take advantage of these bountiful resources if your compost pile, bin, or container isn’t ready for them. Be sure to remove and store any finished compost or flip what compost you currently have that isn’t ready for use. You’ll also want to check for any pests that may have taken up residence over the summer.
A season of garden chores can take a massive toll on your tools. Now that the year is coming to a close, you can take stock of your equipment, clean it, and see what needs to be repaired or replaced.
While cleaning and organizing your tools, you might as well clean out your shed at the same time. For many homeowners, sheds can become quick and convenient storage spaces, accumulating piles of junk. You’ll want your shed to be cleaned, organized, and ready to use next spring.
Making a garden fall ready might feel like busy work. But the tasks outlined in this article help ensure everything is prepped and ready to roll for the colder months. You can even use some of our recommended fall-sprouting vegetables and herbs to have your garden produce crops nearly all year-round. Finally, by taking the initiative on fall pest prevention and weed control, you can reduce the number of problems you’ll have to deal with next season.
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