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Fall Preparation

With autumn here, preparing the yard for winter is one of the last tasks before snow falls. Things to do include raking up leaves, removing spent annuals and perennials, a final mowing for the lawn and a fertilization, if needed. Consider the following:

Remove leaves by raking mowing or vacuuming with a leaf blower. One advantage to mowers and blowers (that can be converted to a leaf vacuum) is that they chop up the leaves, reducing their bulk, so that more fits into bags. The reduced bulk also makes it easier to mix them into soil. Do not send them to the landfill. They are valuable for improving the soil and easy to compost. If they cannot be used, send them to green waste or check with neighbors. Early to mid-fall is also a great time to spray lawn weeds such as dandelions, and especially harder to kill perennial species such as field bindweed (morning glory). There are many products registered to spray on the lawn. If spraying in the garden, make sure that all produce is removed and you are done for the year to avoid contamination. Read and follow all product labels.

Just after the first hard frost is the time to cut back annuals and perennials. At this point, the plants have died or gone dormant. Foliage will be scorched and yellow or brown. Cut perennials a few inches above the ground and do the same with annuals or pull them out completely. If the removed foliage was not diseased, compost it or send it to green waste. If it was diseased, throw it away. If needed, apply 1-3 inches of compost to flowerbeds. It does not need to be tilled in, if this will damage existing plant roots.

The final lawn mowing should occur between late October and early November. Lower the mowing height to around 2 inches. This helps slow the spread of winter active fungal diseases such as snow mold. Along these lines, it is also important to not leave leaf litter on the lawn.

If the lawn has moderate to heavy traffic during the summer, one of the best times to fertilize is in the fall. The lawn stores nutrients and will break dormancy sooner in the spring. There are many standard and organic fertilizer options available. Follow instructions on the bag.

One thing to avoid in the fall is heavy pruning of woody plants. Pruning delays dormancy and can make these much more susceptible to winter damage. Instead, mid to late winter is a much better time to prune ornamental trees. Prune most flowering and fruit bearing trees in late winter to early spring. If shrubs do not flower or flower in the summer, prune in late winter. For spring flowering shrubs (snowball bush, spirea, bridal wreath, lilacs, etc.) prune as soon as they are done blooming in the spring.