7 Things to Consider When Planning a Fall Cleanup

7 Things to Consider When Planning a Fall Cleanup

Fall is in the air. Temperatures are becoming cooler, and the days are growing shorter. Homeowners need to start thinking about preparing their yards for the cold winter months ahead. Read on to learn about some of the most important outdoor tasks to undertake now in order to enjoy a beautiful and healthy yard come springtime.


With winter right around the corner, it might be tempting to simply allow your grass to grow long, but it is important to keep up with regular mowing throughout the fall season. Not only will this make your lawn less attractive to critters such as mice and voles that love to burrow in long grass under the snow, but it will also ensure that sunlight and water continue to reach your lawn as it prepares its root system for winter. A helpful rule of thumb is to mow your lawn approximately every 10 days to two weeks during the fall season and to keep it at the recommended minimum length—typically between 0.75 and 1.5 inches—for your particular type of grass.


Before your lawn goes dormant for the winter, it is a good idea to fertilize in order to provide it with a boost of nutrients that will sustain it throughout the months ahead. You’ll notice that commercial bagged fertilizers are labeled with a three-digit code, such as 25-3-10. The code provides information about the relative proportions of the key nutrients—nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, respectively—that the fertilizer contains. When applying fertilizer in the fall, you’ll want to look for a mixture that has about twice as much nitrogen as potassium. Nitrogen helps to build healthy roots, while potassium offers protection against the cold. Late fall is the ideal time to apply fertilizer to your lawn if you live in a cooler climate. Homeowners who live in warmer parts of the country can wait even later.

Rake leaves

Autumn leaves are beautiful when they are on trees, but far less so when they are on your lawn. Heavy piles or clumps of leaves can effectively smother the grass below, resulting in dead patches of lawn. They are also more likely to develop leaf mold or other fungal diseases. To avoid this, make sure to rake up leaves as soon as they fall rather than wait for the trees to drop all of their leaves. The leaves can be added to your compost pile, or you can use them as mulch on your flower beds.


The perennials in your garden will keep growing and flowering each year, but in order to maximize regrowth in the springtime, you’ll need to cut back any dead growth before winter. Pruning also helps to protect the plants’ extremities from the effects of the cold weather. The amount of pruning needed will vary depending on the type of perennial, so it’s best to ask your local nursery for guidance on how to prune your plants.

Clean up annuals

Unlike perennials, annuals do not last over the winter, so it is a good idea to pull them up as soon as they are finished producing flowers and leaves. Doing so in the fall rather than in the spring will make for a lot less cleanup. In addition, you won’t have unsightly dead plants cluttering up your flower beds all winter.

Protect plants

Trees, shrubs, and other perennials require protection from cold temperatures in order to make it through the winter. You can provide them with the necessary insulation by covering their bases with mulch, compost, or even the fallen leaves that you’ve raked up. Just like a cozy blanket, the extra layer will prevent frost and a hard freeze from permanently damaging your plants. If you have any recently planted evergreens, they will also need to be wrapped up so that they don’t develop “winter burn,” a condition in which needles dry up and turn brown because water is unable to get to a tree’s branches from its frozen roots. Potted plants will also need protection. To insulate the roots of potted plants, try wrapping the pot in a blanket, placing it inside another, larger pot, or even burying it in the soil. You can also protect potted plants from major temperature swings by moving them to the shadiest spot in your yard.

Plant bulbs

Get a head start on spring by planting smaller bulbs in the fall. Getting plants such as tulips or daffodils in the ground now means that they’ll be ready by the time the warmer weather rolls around and will therefore be able to produce lovely flowers in the spring. You’ll just need to be sure to wait to plant your bulbs until the ground temperature is consistently below 45 degrees. Bulbs planted in soil that is too warm may sprout early.