Now is the time to prepare your yard for the next growing season. Cooling temperatures slow aboveground growth, and moister soil encourages strong root development. Removing spent stems, dead branches, and heavy leaf cover protects plants' overall health.
Aerate the Lawn
Feed Your Grass
Cutting back on fertilizer in late summer prevents perennials from wasting energy on leaf production. But grass roots keep growing until the ground gets down to around 40 degrees, now is a good time to feed them.
Mow a Final Time
Disease has a harder time with shorter grass and the fallen leaves blow more easily across the lawn because they have nothing to latch on to.
To make fallen leaves easier to transport, rake them onto a plastic tarp. You could add them to your compost. Flip the leaf pile every week with a garden fork to aerate; the "black gold" that results next year can nourish lawns, flower beds, and shrub borders.
Plant New Shrubs
In many parts of the country, planting shrubs in early fall gives the plants a head start at establishing roots in the season's cool, moist soil. The basics: Dig a hole (twice the diameter and to a depth of 2 inches less than the full height of the root ball); position the shrub in the hole (make sure the top of the root ball remains at, not below, ground level); fill in with soil; water to settle soil; add more soil to top of root ball (don't pack soil down with foot); mulch.
Trim Dead Limbs
Lifeless branches can succumb to winter snow and winds, endangering you and your home. "For big jobs, call in the pros," says Roger. But you can protect small ornamental trees from further damage by cutting cracked, loose, and diseased limbs close to (but not flush with) the trunk; leave the wounds exposed to heal.
Cut Back Perennials
A little work now results in healthier spring beds: Remove annuals, as well as the snails and slugs that feed on them, which breed in fall. Trim perennial foliage down to the ground; this sends energy to the roots, for next season. Every three years, divide crowded tuberous plants, like irises and daylilies: More space means more flowers.
Mulch Young Plants
Give new beds a layer of mulch—chopped leaves, weed-free straw, or wood chips—after a light frost, but before the ground freezes. Till decomposed layers of organic mulch into the soil, then apply a fresh 2- to 4-inch layer (more will smother roots) to keep new plantings warm and to control water runoff and soil erosion.
Dry Out Irrigation Systems
Standing water can freeze and crack irrigation tubing. For simple systems, shut the water off, unscrews the tap-joint adapter, and, use a high-volume, low-pressure setting on his compressor, inserts an air hose where the system normally attaches to the tap.