Outdoor Maintenance to Get Ready for Fall

While it’s tempting to let summer’s leaves pile up, raking them prevents the soil from becoming oversaturated and encouraging mold. It’s also a good time to check outdoor stairs, railings and the driveway for safety issues.

Before the really cold temperatures arrive, shut off and drain spigots to avoid damage from freezing temperatures, and empty ceramic or clay pots that are too large to bring indoors (they’ll crack). Seal air leaks around windows and doors with caulk.


As the leaves turn color and begin to fall, you will need to properly care for them, either by raking or blowing. Grass does not grow well with leaves covering it, and piled up leaves block sunlight from the soil and can cause lawn diseases like snow mold.

When raking, it’s a good idea to wear garden gloves to protect your hands from thorns and insects. Also, a pair of lightweight work gloves are perfect for handling weeds in the vegetable garden and for tasks like mulching flower beds.

Once you’ve raked or blown leaves into piles, use a wheelbarrow to move them to a compost area. If you have a large yard, consider creating several small compost piles to reduce the number of trips to and from a compost bin. To speed up composting, chop the leaves before adding them to the piles.  If your town has “green” pick up, use the provided garbage can or paper leaf bags for the weekly pick up.

Leaf mold can be used to fertilize the soil in vegetable and flower gardens next year, or it can be spread as a thick layer of mulch over the entire garden to conserve water and keep the ground warm for plants. It’s a great alternative to chemical fertilizers. In addition, you can add the compost to a raised bed vegetable garden and create a “hot bed” that promotes fast growth of vegetables and other edible plants.


Whether they are inside or outside, plants need proper care to thrive in fall and winter. This includes adjusting watering, fertilization, bug patrol and proper placement.

As the days get shorter, houseplants need less water and won’t be growing as quickly. If possible, move them closer to a window to help boost light levels. And remember that they don’t like dramatic temperature changes. Drafty windows and exterior doors can cause them to suffer. Keep them away from heaters and fireplaces, too, as they can scorch plants and make them dry out.

While you may be ready to put your gardening to bed for the year, perennial shrubs, trees and spring blooming bulbs need special attention in autumn. They’re going through a not-so-attractive period called dormancy, which is when they stop producing flowers or foliage.

To encourage them to re-bloom next spring, feed them a good amount of liquid fertilizer at this time. Also, reapply mulch around the base of plants to retain soil moisture and prevent weeds. If you have a lawn, raise the mowing height to help the grass hold up better in hot temperatures and drought conditions. Remember to alternate mowing patterns to avoid creating strips or ruts. And don’t forget to water new shrubs, lawns and tree seedlings a few times a week, moistening the soil to about 1 inch deep.


Often, when homeowners get their gardening tools out in the fall, they also reach for their pruning shears. As you may know, proper pruning is essential to a healthy garden and landscape. However, many people aren’t sure when it is appropriate to prune trees and shrubs and how best to do so.

Many resources warn against pruning anything woody in the fall, and it is generally not recommended unless a specific situation calls for it. This is largely because most plants are slowing down and preparing to enter dormancy in the fall. By pruning a plant at this time, you can disrupt the dormant process and potentially damage it.

If you do prune in the fall, it should be limited to removing any dead branches or limbs that are dangerous or overhanging a structure. Also, it is important to note that pruning should only be done when the weather is dry, if possible. Pruning when it is wet encourages the spread of disease.

Some flowering shrubs, such as lilacs and azaleas, should not be pruned in the fall because they set buds for next year on old wood. Other shrubs that require pruning to shape or for other reasons can be done in late summer and early autumn, if needed.


While summer ends and fall begins, plants are busy storing sugars and nutrients in their roots for the winter. It’s important to make sure they get enough water. If you’re in an area with drought conditions, it’s a good idea to wean your perennials and shrubs off daily or weekly watering and move to a bi-weekly schedule. Watering in the fall also helps with winter hardiness by keeping the soil moist.

Before it gets too cold, trim back dead branches that could pose a threat during winter winds and storms. It’s also a great time to clean rain gutters, especially around the home where debris can block proper drainage. It’s also a good idea to drain and store hoses, fountains and drip irrigation systems before they freeze. You can even pay a landscape pro to blow out your system with compressed air to avoid costly repairs in the spring.

Lastly, a fresh coat of exterior paint can keep your home protected and looking new. While it’s still warm enough, it’s a good idea to use caulk to seal cracks and gaps on your doors, windows and frames, and where wires and pipes enter the house.