8 Gardening Tasks to Do in Fall for a Gorgeous Yard Next Spring

published Sep 25, 2023
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A historic colonial structure in Concord, MA on an October day
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If you’ve ever set an annual budget or written down your five-year goals, you’ve probably seen positive results — as long as you’ve followed through with your intentions. It’s no secret that planning now for the future can help set yourself up for success, and the same is true with outdoor spaces. With proper planning and implementation, experts say that your fall gardening efforts will have a big payoff in the spring. That’s especially true if you’ve recently moved into a new-to-you home, where there may be a lot of work to do.

After a long, hot summer of mowing and trimming, it might not be all that appealing to add more outdoor jobs to your to-do list. However, taking on a few fall-focused planting and planning tasks will help keep your yard healthy and beautiful — and will help it thrive next year. Here are eight tasks you can do that experts say will lessen your workload and enhance your yard in the spring.

Add nutrients to the soil.

Including nutrient-dense compost in your yard is a simple and inexpensive way to keep plants healthy. Justin Hancock, a horticulturist with Costa Farms, swears by topdressing his soil with compost in the fall. “Adding and incorporating compost to your soil on a yearly basis provides a wealth of benefits,” he says. Nutrients have perks like improving drainage, aiding moisture retention, increasing soil fertility, and encouraging beneficial, pest-fighting microorganisms to promote stronger, happier plants.

However, Brock Ingham, the owner of Bigger Garden, advises that if you don’t have compost, adding a fall-specific fertilizer is suitable. He says, “This task helps prepare your plants, especially lawns, for the dormant winter months and sets the stage for vigorous spring growth.”

Even though above-ground activities slow, root systems continue to grow and absorb nutrients, and adding fertilizer leads to healthier, more resilient spring plants.

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Plant spring-flowering bulbs.

Seeing bright crocuses, daffodils, and tulips pop through the mulch in early spring is a happy reminder that warmer days are coming. But you can’t wait until next year to plant those — gardening guides advise that fall is the ideal time to plant spring-blooming bulbs in the ground. “Spring-blooming bulbs need the winter chill to bloom in the spring,” advises Gene Caballero, the co-founder of Your Green Pal.

Caballero recommends planting them at a depth three times their width and ensuring that the bulb’s pointed end faces upwards. Crocuses bloom before grass starts to perk up, so while most bulbs should be planted in mulched garden areas, consider planting crocus bulbs in the lawn for added color.

Maintain your hardscapes.

Hardscapes enhance the outdoor aesthetic by adding visual interest to green spaces. “Fall can be a great time to inspect and repair any damaged hardscape elements such as fences, paths, or garden structures,” says Ingham. Regularly surveying and making repairs as the damage occurs can help maintain hardscape functionality while preventing minor issues from turning into costly repairs down the road.

Common problems to look for with fencing are loose boards, broken posts, and rot — all of which should be dealt with immediately. Fall is also the ideal time to apply a fresh coat of paint or sealant to protect wood. Winter can be tough on structural elements, such as pergolas and trellises, so treat these wooden frameworks like fencing. If you have walkways, power wash or clean them while checking for loose stones, cracks, and uneven surfaces.

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Clean up spent plant parts.

As a certified horticulturist, Michele Chambliss puts on her gloves and gets out the pruners to remove the mess that summer leaves, ensuring a beautiful spring as the yard goes dormant. Her yearly tasks include disposal of burned-out annuals, deadheading perennials, and pruning dead parts off of her trees and shrubs. “A general cleanup not only improves the appearance of the garden, but it also keeps plants healthy by minimizing the spread of diseases or unwanted pests,” says Chambliss. Removing spent parts helps perennials re-bloom vigorously come spring.

Repair and aerate your lawn.

Your lawn may be resting during the colder weather, but keeping grass healthy in the fall aids in having a lush lawn once it starts to perk up. According to Susan Brandt, the co-founder of Blooming Secrets, dethatching — removing the layer of material that accumulates between the grass and soil — is an important step.

“Removing this allows the grass to grow better by allowing nutrients and water to get to the roots easier,” she says. Afterward, aerate the soil to improve drainage. If you notice bare or brown patches in your lawn, rake and reseed those areas. Sod is also a viable option, but plant it early enough to establish before the fear of frost.

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Plant and water trees and shrubs.

According to Hancock, you can add hearty plants to your landscape before winter. Another perk is that nurseries try to clear stock before the first frost, meaning that many perennials are heavily discounted. Planting bushes and trees in the fall allows them to establish strong roots, and watering is integral to the process. “Once the soil freezes in winter, plants cannot take up moisture, so keeping them well hydrated in September and October goes a long way in preventing winter yellowing or browning,” adds Hancock.

Spread wildflower seeds.

It may seem counterintuitive to sow seeds in the fall, but Ryan Farley, the CEO of Lawn Starter, reveals that fall is the perfect time to plant a native seed mix. “Wait until everything else has died off, clear the ground, and scatter mixed wildflower seeds,” he tells Apartment Therapy. Farley also notes that you should cover them with mulch. Once spring comes, the seeds will take root and bloom, creating a gorgeous, natural burst of color. 

Care for your tools.

As plants grow and bloom in the spring, you’ll need to maintain your yard, which involves using your tools. Putting them away in good condition might not impact the growth cycle of your perennials, but reaching for ready-to-use garden implements helps you tackle tasks quickly and get off to a good start. “After you’re done using your tools for the season, giving them a good cleaning before winter storage keeps them in tip-top shape,” says Hancock.

He also says to place tasks like sharpening the edges of pruning shears and shovels on your list. Additionally, if you need to add a few tools to your inventory, reduced fall pricing makes it easier to stock up for spring.