9 Fall Tips to Improve Your Landscape from the Ground Up

You may not realize it, but fall is the best season to evaluate and begin restoring your landscape. Thanks to cooler temperatures and wetter weather, the mild fall climate is ideal for putting in the lawn work that will pay dividends come spring.

From the soil beneath your feet to the limbs above your head, we’ve put together a list of 9 tips to help you address the most important components of your landscape this fall.

Tip 1 | Lawn or Soil Aeration

Aerating alleviates soil compaction and allows for a stronger, more vigorous lawn. Before starting the lawn aeration process, cut your lawn short and water it (but don't flood it) until you can easily push your index finger roughly one inch into the ground. If the ground is hard, the aerator won't be able to penetrate the soil and the seed will not have the holes in the ground and loose soil it needs to germinate, root and establish. For best results, make multiple passes with the aerator to avoid inconsistent grass growth with noticeable stand-alone patches of grass. If your lawn is in good shape, two passes are sufficient. If your lawn has large bare areas, make three to four passes.

Tip 2 | Watering and Irrigation

When caring for your lawn, keep in mind that it needs less water than you think. People tend to irrigate too often. Most lawns only need to be watered once every 4 to 8 days. Grass needs about one inch of water per week, and it needs to be applied evenly and deeply throughout the lawn. How long depends on your irrigation system, but avoid watering in the evening as this promotes fungal diseases. Water your lawn preferably in the early morning to avoid evaporation. As colder weather approaches, be sure to winterize your irrigation system. Checking your valves and draining all of the water out of any irrigation components that might freeze is key to preventing damage during winter months.

Tip 3 | Fertilizing

Fall is the best time to fertilize your lawn. Based on the nitrogen concentration of your lawn, calculate how much fertilizer you will need. Keep in mind that it is better to use too little fertilizer than too much. Cool-season and warm-season grasses have different fertilizing schedules, but as a rule of thumb you’ll want to make two applications: one in September/October and the next in November. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding the rate of application and make sure you apply your fertilizer evenly. Use a different fertilizer formula for the second application.

Tip 4 | Drought Repair

If drought persists into the fall, you’ll want to water your lawn a couple times a week and do so long enough to soak the soil several inches deep. To take care of your lawn, aerate it from time to time and when you water it, make sure to do it slowly and with some kind of sprinkler system or hose. Do the same for your plants, but the best thing you can do to protect your plants and flowers during drought conditions is to use mulch. Lastly, during hot and dry conditions, it is a good idea to conserve water in any way possible. See our full list of lawn drought tips for more details.

Tip 5 | Weed Control

Weeds such as dandelions, thistles, clover, and weed grasses are one of the most common lawn problems. Large numbers of weeds are normally an indication of a lawn suffering from poor nutrient levels. Fertilizer is the ideal solution in such cases. Frequent mowing at a high cutting height acts as an additional defense against the growth of weeds by preventing access to the light needed for germination. Using good-quality seed is also a factor that should not be overlooked. In addition, carrying out regular and deep aerating is an effective method of preventing weeds from invading in the first place. However, digging weeds out which have taken hold remains the best, and often only, solution.

Tip 6 | Leaf Control

Leaves are synonymous with fall, so remove leaves from your lawn regularly to prevent suffocating the turf. Blow off walks frequently to prevent slippery conditions. Powered blowers and shredder vacs relieve the strain of clearing driveways, paths and lawns, and the latest STIHL models make clearing leaves a breeze. Blow leaves into a pile before collecting them up with a STIHL shredder vac or by hand. Mowing over leaves is one of the quickest and easiest ways to clear them from your lawn. Your lawn mower must have good suction power and be a collecting model.

Tip 7 | Add Color for Spring

Fall is the best time to plant spring-blooming bulbs. A rewarding strategy is to plant several different varieties as different bulbs have different bloom times, which means you can enjoy the fruits of your hard work all spring long. Additionally, it is a good practice to plant a wide range of varieties and colors to account for those that may not come up.

Tip 8 | Pruning

When the heat of summer has passed, take a good look at all of the shrubs and ground cover on your property and give them one last pruning (either hand snipping for natural appearance, or shearing when appropriate). Get them ready to ‘put to bed’ for a long winter. Be sure to cut back perennials to near soil level, once they begin to change colors, and take proper steps to ensure that your plants are not distressed from pruning, especially shrubs and trees. Observe limbs that create visibility and clearance issues for foot or vehicle traffic. Consider pruning to improve security. Are there limbs that are susceptible during upcoming winter storms? Prune now before limbs break and create new problems.

Tip 9 | Mulching

Freshly mulched beds give a polished finish and help protect through winter. After all pruning is completed and leaves are removed, fresh mulch gives a nice finished look for the coming holiday season. Many landscaping professionals prefer fall mulching to retain soil moisture, suppress weed growth and protect bare soil from erosion. Fall mulching also insulates soil and plant roots, protecting them from colder temperatures.

By: David Snodgrass, President, Dennis’ 7 Dees Landscaping and Garden Centers

About David Snodgrass

David Snodgrass serves as president of Dennis’ 7 Dees Landscaping and Garden Centers, a family-run business now in its fourth generation of serving clients in Oregon. In addition to offering landscape design, installation and maintenance services, the garden centers provide a variety of hands-on educational events to the community.