9 steps to next year’s gorgeous yard

by Cristel Mohrman

Fall is the time to button up your yard. Smart gardening will not only protect it from damage that can be caused by frigid weather, but also to help ensure that spring will emerge gloriously.

Landscape experts offer a number of tips on what you can do during the autumn months to help prepare your lawn and garden for the spring.

  1. Target weeds. Identify what weeds you want to kill, then buy a weed killer designed specifically to kill the plant you want to be rid of, says Michael Becker, who is president of Estate Gardeners in Omaha, Nebraska, as well as a spokesman for Professional Landcare Network, a national landscaping association.
  2. Battle crabgrass. If you have a small crabgrass problem, let the first frost kill it, then be prepared to apply a pre-emergent herbicide in the early spring, Becker says. If crabgrass is taking over your lawn, the University of Connecticut Home Extension Service advises you to cut the seed-rich tops off the crabgrass before the first frost and rake them up. If you are really intent on eradicating large sections of crabgrass, spray on an herbicide, let the chemical dissipate for a couple of weeks, then sow grass seed, the Extension Service advises.
  3. Give your lawn room to breathe. “We recommend annual aeration in the fall,” Becker says. “You can rent an aerator, but they aren’t the easiest machines to use,” so you might want to hire someone to do this for you, he suggests.
  4. Fertilize well. “If you are only going to fertilize once, do it in the fall,” Becker says, because it gives the lawn strength to survive the winter and come back strong in the spring.
  5. Mow for the last time. For this last cutting, Becker says, leave the grass at least 2 to 2 ½ inches long. In cold climates it can encourage snow mold and in warmer climates short grass could be susceptible to other diseases, according to Becker.
  6. Rake and mulch. Becker said mulching leaves and spreading them over the flowerbeds is better than bagging. Don’t be afraid to mulch beds with your leaves, he says. “It is very beneficial to have decomposing leaf matter in the planting beds,” because they are packed with trace minerals that Becker says keep the plants healthier.
  7. Don’t turn off water too soon. October is the driest month in many parts of the country, Becker says. He recommends waiting as long as practical before winterizing the irrigation system or rolling up the hose. He advises giving the ground one last soaking before the shutoff.
  8. Maintain your equipment. The University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service suggests changing the oil and the air filters in all engine-powered equipment, as well as sharpening the blades and lubricating wheel bearings and throttle cables. Add fuel stabilizer to any gas-powered mowers and trimmers because it will make them easier to start in the spring, Becker adds.
  9. Delay trimming. Prune woody ornamentals and trees after they are bare and dormant, Becker says. “After the leaves fall, the shape is easier to see and trimming during dormancy is healthier for the plants,” he says. Leave attractive perennials all winter, he suggests, because they add visual interest. And because they have multiple surfaces, “they collect more snow and that keeps the plant hydrated,” he says.

Preparing for winter can be a lot of work, but think of it this way: It gets you outside and gives you a reason to enjoy the crisp, cool weather.

This article originally appeared on the Allstate Blog.