Fall Landscaping

Autumn Yard Work in Preparation for Winter

Image of leaves needing to be raked on lawn.
The clock is ticking: how long should these leaves be allowed to stay on the grass before being raked?. David Beaulieu

Fall landscaping, for all the work it entails, is something of a celebration. It is a rite of the harvest and a wonderful time to be active in the yard. Make a conscious effort to enjoy the autumn yard to the fullest! But also remember that there's much work to be done, tasks that will prepare your yard for winter -- and for the spring that's sure to follow. I outline those tasks for you below:

Fall Landscaping: 7 Common Tasks

  1. Overseed Your Lawn
  1. Start a New Lawn
  2. Rake Up Those Leaves
  3. Put Your Garden to Bed
  4. Don't Let Weeds off the Hook
  5. Plant a Tree
  6. The Calendar Says Autumn, but the Bulbs Say Spring

You will want to overseed your lawn if you feel it hasn't grown in thick enough. A related task of fall landscaping is starting a new lawn altogether -- whether because you're moving in to a property that has no lawn or because you've decided your current lawn is a hopeless case (so you might as well start over). Consult the following resource for other tasks pertaining specifically to lawns in autumn: Autumn Lawn Care.

Raking Leaves

Many of us have been raking leaves in autumn since we were kids. But how soon should you rake up leaves? And have you ever wondered why we rake leaves at all? This subject also raises the issue of what equipment to use, so let's explore that subject in some detail here:

Lots of people use vacuums for leaf removal nowadays, instead of leaf rakes.

Using rakes is just an old-fashioned method of removal, right? Not really. There are advantages to raking that one could easily overlook. Don't consign leaf rakes to the annals of history just yet!

Before considering the advantages of using good old-fashioned leaf rakes for leaf removal, let's look at the four advantages residing in the vacuum's camp:

  1. Possible time savings (if you're a slow raker and if you don't feel the need to remove every last leaf).
  2. Ability to remove leaves from tight spaces.
  3. Relative ease of use may be attractive to those with disabilities.
  4. Vacuums can also allow you to shred up the leaves, creating ready-to-use mulch.

Now let's consider the advantages of raking leaves, instead.

  1. Monetary savings: leaf rakes are cheaper.
  2. For those reasonably healthy, wielding a leaf rake can serve as an aerobic exercise.
  3. Since leaf rakes don't have motors, they're not only better for the environment, but also quieter and promise a more serene experience. The sights, sounds and smells of autumn can be better appreciated without having to put up with the drone of a motor.
  4. You can dethatch the lawn at the same time.

So which do you prefer to use, a leaf rake or blower? For information about the latest leaf blower I've tested, see my review of the BV6000 leaf blower-vacuum-mulcher.

Weeding and Winterizing

Your garden has been working hard for you for months now. After the harvest, it's time to put it to bed: Give your garden what it needs to enjoy a refreshing winter's rest and come back strong in spring. My tips on preparing the garden in autumn will get you started.

Pay particular attention to weed control; if you make weed identification and eradication part of your fall landscaping efforts, you'll be saving yourself lots of time in spring.

Is it too late once fall comes to worry about weeds? This is really a question about timing (note that it's not a question about whether spraying herbicides, in general, is a good idea, as opposed to staying organic). Some beginners may think that there's no point in practicing battling common lawn weeds in the fall, since the weeds will be killed (or will appear to die, more accurately) anyhow once winter arrives. Are they correct?

No. Fall is a good time to apply herbicides to broadleaf weeds, especially some of the perennials, like dandelions. Such weeds will not be killed by the cold weather that's right around the corner (in the North) once fall ends.

They will be back next year, so you might as well tackle eradicating them now.

Fall Planting

If your primary interest in the past has been in growing flowers and vegetables, you might not think of autumn as a time for planting. But planting trees and shrubs is part of fall landscaping. And don't forget to mark your calendar in autumn for planting spring bulbs: We call them "spring" bulbs because they bloom in spring, but if you don't remember to plant them in autumn, you'll miss out on all the beauty they bring to spring!

If you didn't find the fall landscaping issue you were looking for above, never fear. Here's much more advice about the autumn yard in the forms of FAQs (click the links to learn the answers):

The resources above on fall landscaping deal with preparing your yard for winter. If you are searching for information on "fall landscaping" in the sense of selecting plants for autumn foliage and/or decorating for Halloween, consult the following resources:

  1. Most Colorful Trees for Fall
  2. Best Shrubs for Fall Color
  3. Ideas for Outdoor Halloween Decorations
  4. Fall Decorating Ideas That Completely Ignore Halloween

  5. Planting Fall Flowers

Your attitude toward fall landscaping says a lot about how much of a plant enthusiast you really are. Even lukewarm plant lovers get excited about the spring yard, that wonderful blank slate that greets us after a long winter. But in many cases, their excitement fizzles out by the time autumn comes around. If they do any fall landscaping at all, they do it very reluctantly: They're tired of yard work after a summer's worth of it; ironically, they now look forward to the rest that winter brings! Of course, you are not like that, else you would not be reading this article on fall landscaping. So roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Winterizing Equipment

Remember to bring garden hoses in for storage prior to winter.

Also bring their reels in for storage, especially if the reels have any metal components.

And more important than a hose being ruptured through freezing is what the hose is connected to: your water pipes. Ruptured pipes are costly and inconvenient to replace. So remember:

  • Drain your garden hoses, and bring them in for storage.
  • Turn off the outside water supply.

If you water your lawn with an automatic irrigation system rather than with a garden hose, you can still use it in early autumn, but it should be retired by late autumn, to avoid damage. Blow it out with compressed air to keep it safe for the winter.

And what maintenance should you perform on your lawn mower before storing it away? Drain out the gas in late fall. You'll be glad that you did, next spring, when you go to start up the lawn mower again. Letting the old gas sit around in the lawn mower all winter and get gummy is not conducive to having easy lawn mower maintenance next spring, when you begin mowing again -- the lawn mower won't start up easily. 

Note: Thanks to Jim Hagon of CTE Engineers for his input in this answer. It must be emphasized that it is the gas that you should drain out of your lawn mower, not the oil! Oil is serving a function in lawn mower maintenance even when the lawn mower is in storage. Gas, by contrast, serves no such function.

Out with the old, in with the new. As you're retiring your mower in fall, it's time to wake up your snowblower. What snowblower maintenance tasks should you perform to prepare for winter? The following snowblower maintenance tips come courtesy of Chase-Pitkin Home and Garden:

  1. Change the oil.
  2. Install a new spark plug.
  3. Inspect belts for wear and replace if necessary.
  4. Lube the drive and chassis.
  5. Fill with fresh, clean gasoline.