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Jump-Start Next Year's Garden This Fall


Autumn does not mean the end of gardening. Savvy homeowners enjoy outdoor color well into colder weather. Moreover, cooler temps make preparing the garden for next year a pleasant outdoor activity. Follow these tips to protect, preserve, and plant.
Cleaning the yard

To start, remove dying plants and weeds to keep the soil healthy, recommends Jeremy Yamaguchi, CEO of Lawn Love, which provides high-tech solutions to the lawn industry.

Neat freaks might be tempted to cut back spent perennials, such as coneflowers, but they provide nesting places, food, and havens for birds and insects, says author and garden writer Lorraine Ballato.

Before you pull out the shears, consider that pruning may stimulate plant growth, which you don’t want in the fall, she says. Wait until the plant has naturally lost its leaves and gone dormant.
And don’t prune plants that flower in early spring, such as forsythia or azaleas. “You will be cutting off flowers that have already formed on the plant,” Ballato explains.

While moving about your yard, look for pests that can decimate trees and shrubs. Telltale signs include sap dripping off the tree (known as “raining tree"), black mold, and dead branches in the upper canopy, says Kathy Glassey of Monster Tree Service.

No doubt your garden—and yard—are covered in leaves at a certain point. This is an organic matter that the soil craves, according to Glassey. “They provide nourishment for microbes and the vast ecosystem in the soil,” she says.

However, toss leaves that look diseased, rotted, or mildewed to avoid spreading a problem to your plants. Along the same lines, don’t put leaves and stems in your compost pile, as they may contain diseases.
After applying a thick layer of leaves over the soil, rototill the area if you wish.

There are two schools of thought regarding fertilizing, which replaces lost nutrients. Some say it prepares plants for the growing season to come. But Ballato says it can stimulate growth, which you don’t want in the fall.


Even in cold weather, plants can get thirsty. Mulch helps lock in moisture around trees and shrubs—but only if you do it correctly. For instance, mulch should not touch the tree trunk or exceed a depth greater than 2 to 3 inches, Glassey says.

Mulching too close to the tree is known as “volcano mulching” because it looks like the tree erupted from the pile, Glassey notes. And just like lava, it’s not a good thing. 

Porch gardeners and homeowners with multiple beds often move indoor plants outside in warm weather. Before moving them inside, apply insecticide. “You don’t want any hitchhikers,” Ballato says.

Empty outdoor containers that aren’t frost-proof, and stand them on their sides to avoid water accumulation. Or, store them in a garage or shed. No storage space? Cover them with a tarp held fast by a bungee or rope, she says.

Cleanliness also applies when it comes to tools. Disinfect items such as tomato cages and cucumber trellises before storing, Ballato says.

Before the frost, drain and disconnect your hose and store your water wands inside. Taking some preventative steps will keep these items in good shape. Once they’ve slumbered over winter, they’ll be ready for action, come spring.

Between early and late fall, you can still savor bursts of color from mums, ornamental kale, pansies, and grasses. Buy plants with unopened buds to prolong your enjoyment.

Some people plant mums in the ground, but they rarely survive the winter. Asters are heartier.
Working together 

Like spring, fall is a perfect time to plant, Glassey says. Bulbs are a popular option. Plant bulbs with fragrant flowers, such as daffodils and hyacinths, near your front door to savor the scent. 

This time of year, shrubs and trees are often discounted in nurseries. Make sure to get them in the ground before they go dormant and at least six weeks before the first frost date. “It allows roots to form and ensures their survival,” Ballato says. “Monitor them carefully through the end of the season to ensure they don’t dry out.”

Now sit back, grab a pumpkin latte, and relax until spring.