3 Landscaping Projects Experts Recommend Doing Before It Gets Cold

updated Sep 13, 2019
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To the uninitiated, fall might seem like downtime for your yard or garden—just rake the leaves and keep mowing until the snow comes. But it’s actually high season for landscaping-related projects.

Kevin Lenhart, design director of the online landscape design startup Yardzen, which is currently available in Texas and California, and Rebecca Sweet, author and garden designer at Harmony in the Garden in Northern California, have a few key projects they suggest for fall—or whenever it finally gets cool (but not cold) where you live.

Give your lawn some love

“Fall is a great time for maintenance,” Lenhart says. Use this opportunity to weed, fertilize, dethatch, and aerate your lawn. “As the grass dies off and covers the surface of the soil, aerating and dethatching helps get water down to the roots during the cold season,” he explains. To dethatch, take a long fork-like tool and drag it through the grass to break up the thatch that has accumulated. To aerate, poke cylinders into the soil using a spike or plug aerator.

Lenhart says fall is also when you should mulch the yard to help the soil retain moisture, protect it from erosion, and insulate the soil and plant roots. Sweet says that her process involves adding a couple handfuls of compost around the base of each plant, then refreshing the bark to take advantage of winter rains. “It’s backbreaking work,” she says, “but so worth it.”

And if you get a dry winter where you live, give your plants a nice, deep watering in the fall. “It gives them a leg up going into that season,” Lenhart says.

Plant something

If you plant in the spring, your plants don’t have much time before it gets hot. “The worst thing for a new plant is a heat wave,” says Sweet. “A little plant can deal with frost better than a heat wave.”

That’s why Sweet says fall is actually the best time to do your planting. “The temperatures in most places are cooler, yet the ground isn’t so cold,” she explains. “You don’t see so much activity above ground. But the roots grow like crazy underground, and they will get much more established before winter hits.”

In the fall, Lenhart suggests planting bulbs that will bloom and provide some color and texture in the garden around the holidays. Think about snowdrop, winter aconite, or cyclamen coum. “Aesthetically, it helps you get some winter interest,” Lenhart says. 

Take a step back

“Fall is the best time to take stock of your successes and your failures,” says Sweet. “If a plant just isn’t thriving, dig it up and move it. My husband is always telling me that my plants should be on wheels. I’m constantly moving things around my garden until I find the perfect spot.”

To spot fix a one-season garden—maybe yours peaked in spring and hasn’t looked good since—go to a nursery, take a look at what’s looking great right now, and put those plants in your garden, Sweet says.

The “off-season” is also a good time to ponder your design, says Lenhart—especially if you’re considering a bigger overhaul, because the process can take time. “You shouldn’t think that there’s just one time of year to rethink your garden,” he says.

And one thing to avoid in the fall: Pruning 

Sweet says to hold off on cutting back your shrubs in the fall. “That top growth will protect the crown of the plant in the cold winter months,” she says. “If you prune and you get a heat wave, that warm weather will trigger new growth, and the tender leaves will get zapped by cold weather.” Big, deciduous shrubs can typically wait until they’ve dropped all of their leaves, usually in early winter, to be pruned.