With the chill in the night air and the leaves turning, fall is undeniably here. Winter is just around the corner, a period of rest and dormancy for most plants and animals. Now that it’s not so unpleasant to be outside, there are lots of chores you can tackle to get your yard ready for winter.
1. Fertilize and aerate the lawn
In Northern Virginia, most lawn grasses are ‘cool-weather’ grasses, which means they go dormant in the summer heat but revive in the fall when it cools. Autumn is a good time to put in a slow release fertilizer to feed the grass roots. It’s also a good idea to aerate, which is the process of pulling out small chunks of sod to improve circulation, combat compaction, and promote root growth. You can also reseed in the fall if necessary.
2. Put the garden to bed
If you have a vegetable garden, your harvest is largely over. You can still grow a few cool-weather vegetables, like spinach, leek or onion, but aside from that, you should consider putting in a cover crop like white clover. A cover crop is a dense planting of beneficial plants to keep the weeds down and improve the soil. In this case, clover is an excellent nitrogen-fixer.
Since most people cannot restrain themselves from tilling the soil in the fall, putting in a cover crop will prevent erosion as well.
3. Mulch, mulch, mulch
Aside from compost, mulch is a gardener’s favorite panacea. Mulch is beneficial in so many ways, from reducing erosion, improving soil health, increasing water retention and protecting tender plants from temperature fluctuations. Mulch your trees, mulch your perennial beds, mulch anywhere you don’t want weeds. If looks aren’t an issue, straw mulch is cheap and effective. But double-shredded hardwood mulch looks much nicer, and is easy to come by.
4. Go easy on the pruning
Trees and shrubs are not yet fully dormant, so don’t go crazy with the pruners. Pruning stimulates growth, which is the last thing we want this late in the year. Restrict yourself to cutting out dead wood (which is a haven for insects) and leave the rest of the pruning for January.
5. Plant spring bulbs
There’s nothing quite like seeing the first daffodil shoots pop up in the early spring. So to brighten your mood in March, plant bulbs right now! The rule of thumb is, the smaller the bulb, the sooner they need to go in. Larger bulbs have more starch reserves to last the winter, but small bulbs need more time to develop root systems. The best part about bulbs isn’t just that they’re relatively cheap, it’s that they come back year after year, and multiply!
Getting your yard ready for winter is a fun duty that lets you enjoy the wonderful scenery. Let’s get started!