As August turns to cooler months in September and October, it is time to start working in your garden and yard. Jenn Nawada, a TOH landscape contractor, says that fall’s cool weather is a great time for working outside. Giving plants attention will make your landscape healthier come spring.
Get started by preparing your lawn
Before the leaves begin to fall, you should be focusing on your lawn early on. Core-aerate to reduce soil compaction and add compost to increase soil fertility. Overseed to promote denser turf.
These tasks are essential for seedlings to grow and establish strong roots. Then you can get on to the cleanup.
Clean up borders and beds
After the autumn leaves have fallen, it’s time to clear out the planting beds.
Begin by raking the leaves onto the lawn. You’ll then pick them up later. This task is best done with a narrow shrub rake that has stiff metal tines. It can reach between and under plants without getting caught in them. Jenn adds that raking beds helps to loosen the soil, allowing water and air to get in. She also exposes weeds that she pulls manually to ensure they don’t freeze over.
Jenn will rake away any wood mulch that is more than 3 inches thick. She will break it up and thin it with a steel rake. “Compacted mulch restricts how much water or air can reach soil. You don’t want it to go.
She trims perennials like daylily and iris to encourage strong growth next spring. However, she leaves the tall stalks of ornamental grasses for winter interest and some tall perennials such as coneflower.
TIP: Composting your garden waste? Keep the peony stems and leaves out of the pile. They attract Botrytis Blight, a fungal infection. Instead, toss them in your trash.
Transplant and Divide Overcrowded Perennials
It’s time to trim back the garden and weed it. Now is the perfect time to divide perennials and move them. When transplanting, gently dig around any plant you wish to relocate and then lift it from its hole using a shovel.
Jenn advises that you try to preserve as much of the rootball as possible. Dig up the plant and place it on the ground. Then, use a garden spade or sharp shovel to cut through the roots. Jenn believes that dividing plants can be a rough process, but they will grow stronger in new areas with more space.
You can move a plant, or divide it, by digging a hole twice the size of the root ball. Next, mix a handful of compost with the soil at the bottom and water the roots.
Backfill the hole with soil until the roots are fully covered. Jenn advises that you don’t fertilize at this time of the year. Jenn says, “You want the plants to go to sleep, not get up.” Keep your transplants hydrated until they reach the first deep freeze.
Find the right rake for the job
Quickly tidy up your garden with tools that are specifically designed for this task.
Shrub rake (left), a rake that can be used to rake around plants with its 8-inch head. The handle of this model measures 48 inches and can reach deep into the beds. Shown: True Temper Steel -Tine Shrubrake, $13; Home Depot
Flathead rake (center). Stiff, tempered steel tines push and pull mulch. Flip the head for a final smoothing. Shown: 16-Tine Structron Level Head Rake, $66 Seymour Midwest
Steel fan rake (right); Flexible tines with bent tips are used to remove leaves from lawns. Shown: Razor-Back 24-Tine Steel Rake for $20
Add Mulch to your Layer
Mulch helps protect garden plants from winter’s extreme temperature swings. Jenn prefers fluffy mulches made from natural hemlock bark or shredded pine bark as they resist compacting. Other types of shredded bark like cedar and cypress also work well. However, she is not a fan of artificially colored wood mulches. Jenn warns that dyes from these wood mulches can leach into soil. I stay clear of them.
Jenn uses a stiff steel tine rake to spread mulch around landscape plants. Jenn’s goal is to spread the mulch into a layer of 1 to 2 inches around perennials, and 2 to 3 in around shrubs, trees, and to avoid it touching the bark. This can trap moisture and lead to rot.
Clear the Lawn of Leaves
It is important to get rid of autumn leaves as soon as they begin to fall. They can kill turf if left in place. Instead of smothering and killing the turf, collect them and compost them in a pile to make your soil healthier the next year.
A mulching lawn mower is the best way to collect leaves. Attach a grass-catching bags, place the mower at 2 to 4 inches above the ground, and then mow as normal. Once the bag is full, empty it into the pile. The chopped leaves can be decomposed into organically rich leaf mould, which is the term for decomposed leaf matter, if they are kept moist and mixed frequently. This takes as little as six to eight months. The finer the leaves are chopped, the quicker they will decay.
After removing most leaves using the mower, use a steel fanrake to pick up any leaves that the mower cannot reach. You can also run the mower over them and add them to your pile. Don’t worry if you find a little bit of chopped leaf matter. It will eventually fall off.
Three Simple Tools to Pick up Fall Leaves
Give the lawn one last dose of 24-0-10, a slow-release pelletized fertilizer, a few weeks before the first hard freeze. This fertilizer delivers nitrogen (the first number) which gives grass the sugars it needs to grow. It skips adding phosphorus (the middle amount), which established lawns don’t need. And, it provides potassium (the last number), for resistance to cold, disease, and drought.
Till the turf stops growing and takes a winter nap, keep it at 2 1/2 to 3 inches. Give the mower a break and then take the mower out to give your landscape the attention it needs.
A simple compost bin such as this can be used to turn your lawn’s leaves into leaf mold. Simply take a 4-foot-long length of galvanized chicken wire, and shape it into a cylindrical.
To keep it from falling over, place it on its side and attach stakes in the center. Keep it well-watered and moist. Start composting in the autumn to get rich, black mold from the leaves by the next summer.
TIP: Leaves can be very hard on a mower’s cutting edge. Before you start mowing your grass next spring, make sure to sharpen the blade.