How to Care for Your Yard and Garden This Fall

Don’t let your fall home wellness checklist stop at the door.

We're all about plants at Second Nature. That's because plants are pretty awesome. By converting the CO2 we exhale (and at an ever growing rate produce) into oxygen, they give us that 21% of the atmosphere we need for life. Plants also help clean the air of toxins, like VOCs.

Oh, and you can eat a lot of them. We've covered how to start your garden. We've even talked about getting started in hydroponics, but fall is here. That means it's time for fall gardening (and pumpkin spice lattes).

You might be asking yourself “what do I do to my garden this fall?” Great question. In this post, I'm covering just that and more:

Notice a theme? Let’s get started!

Fall lawn care

If you have cool season grass, now is the time to plan ahead for aeration and overseeding.

What's cool season grass? Turf (a fancy term for grass) comes in hundreds of types in two primary categories: warm and cool season. Put simply, warm season grass goes dormant in fall and winter, turning brown. It prefers the warm seasons. On the other hand, cool season grass stays green year long, even when it's covered with snow and ice. Somehow, it just doesn't care.

All turfs require different amounts and types of care. For a lot of the country, our warm season turf is about to go to sleep for two seasons. Cool season turf, like fescue or bluegrass, needs our help now.

September and October are aeration and overseeding months. What's aeration, you ask? Isn't that for wine? In this case, it's the process of poking holes in your lawn. Pretty simple. This allows nutrients, water, and air to get down the roots so your grass can stay healthy—just like aerating your wine for your sanity...I mean for the antioxidants.

woman changing filter

Throughout the year, it's helpful to use a small aerator (or a spike aerator). But this time of year, we pull out the big guns. Plug aerators use a rotor with giant hole punches to remove plugs of soil in your yard. You'll want to find a machine that "soil plugs approximately 2–3 inches deep and 0.5–0.75 inches in diameter, and about 2–3 inches apart." These can be rented, or lawn care companies can take care of this for you.

If you're up to doing this yourself, consider splitting the cost of rental equipment with a neighbor.

We could go on and on about aeration, but we have other things to cover—believe it or not, you can actually get a degree in turf management.

Before we turn to veggies, you should also overseed your lawn with seed after aeration and be sure to water it. Water will help the existing cool season grass and will give the grass seed the water it needs to germinate. With aeration, overseeding, and ample watering, you're well on your way to having the healthiest, fullest grass on the street!

Fall vegetable gardening

Living in North Carolina, I have until the end of October before I can expect to see the first frost. Not all of you are that lucky. Before planting anything, I look to the Farmer's Almanac to find my first frost. I then work backward from there.

Just like you would start your garden in the spring, clear out any plants that didn't make it or single harvest ones (like onions) to make room. It also isn't a bad idea to till the soil you plan to plant in and add some compost, so the plants have the nutrients they need. This is especially important if your soil is rich in clay. Lastly, get rid of those weeds. Nobody has time for that.
Silverbeet is great additions to any fall vegetable garden.

If you live where the soil is still warm, you have great options to plant now.

  • Beets
  • Collards
  • Dwarf varietal peas
  • Kale
  • Leeks - this just won't grow like they would in the spring.
  • Radishes

Until my soil cools, I'll start germinating seeds now. These plants grow well once soil temperatures drop below 70ºF, but if I waited that long, it would become too cold before I actually got a harvest.

  • Bok Choy
  • Endive
  • Lettuce
  • Parsley - great year round herb
  • Radicchio
  • Spinach

Herbs, lettuce, spinach, and other leafy greens are great candidates for indoor year round growth plants with hydroponics.

Once my soil does cool below 70ºF, I'll transplant my seedling outdoors and also have some more options to plant.

  • Arugula
  • Cilantro
  • Lamb's lettuce
  • Turnips
  • Winter varietals of lettuce

I love arugula, so I'm pretty excited about my last fall harvest.

For the most part, basic gardening principles apply no matter what time of year you start your garden. Knowing what vegetables to plant when is the least forgiving part.

If you use containers for your veggies, be sure to clean them, so no diseases are left to doom your autumn harvest. One part bleach to ten parts water will do the trick.

Fall flower planting: which flowers to plant for spring?

For a lot of us, this is our favorite part. Growing our own food gives you a great sense of accomplishment, but flowers—com' on, they're just the pop of color you need indoors and out. Planting bulbs now will make sure that you have all the color you need come springtime.

If you live in colder climates, plant bulbs when the soil cools, generally in October. Since I'm in a warmer part of the country, I plant bulbs in November. Tulips, daffodils, crocus, iris, and hyacinths are great options. If you're feeling ambitious, this is also the perfect time to plant perennials seeds or split them, like hydrangeas or gardenias. Seeds aren't always tricky, but you could very effortlessly get these plants from a nursery in the spring. Considering transplanting and caring for plants isn't easy per se, I usually go this route. If you decide to do that too, don't worry. I won't tell anyone. When it comes to splitting plants, I'm not that ambitious yet, but the experts at a local nursery will absolutely be able to help out.

Keep in mind there are still a lot of flowers you should not plant in the fall. For example, Dahlia bulbs won't survive the winter because they are native to Central and South America.

Fall yard maintenance

mower blade height adjustment lever
Most mowers have a lever like this on both sides to adjust blade height.

Let's go back to the grass for a minute. After you've knocked off the fall lawn care to dos, you have one last job. Give your lawn it's final trim before winter. Once the temperature drops to 50ºF during the day, your grass stops to grow. For most of you, this will happen in October or November (maybe December). When you get your first frost, plan to mow your lawn two or three times, gradually cutting closer to 2–2 ½ inches. Mowing your grass down to this height will keep tall enough to resist snow mold from developing while still short enough, so it isn't overstressed by the cold winter ahead.

In the spring and summer, cool weather grass is healthiest when it's regularly cut at 3–3 ½ inches. Be sure that the blade is sharp and ready to go!

Fall is the perfect time of year to plan and plant the rest of your landscaping. Trees and shrubs will do great this time of year. I made the mistake of planting a tree around Arbor day this past year. Don't get me wrong, Arbor day is great. Please plant as many trees as makes sense and cut down ones that don't pose a danger. But, in North Carolina, this past Arbor day was a little too late. The magnolia in front of my house isn't doing so hot.

Do as I say, not as I do. Plant those trees and shrubs now, so they have months to develop a healthy root system.

Essential tips to keep in mind when planting trees and shrubs.

  • Dig holes that are about twice as wide and deep as the base of the tree or shrub.
  • If the tree base is bundled, cut the burlap. When left on, the roots grown in a circular fashion around the tree, causing a weak foundation and an unhealthy tree. Be nice to trees.
  • Mix your soil with compost, so you have a 50/50 mixture. If you want to be extra loving on your future trees, you can even test your soil and adjust this mixture for optimal pH and nutrients.
  • Make sure you water often, but not too often. If you don't get rain, be sure to water at least once a week. If it's unusually dry and hot, I will water my outdoor plants up to once a day.
  • Make sure you're getting the right tree and planting it in the right spot. Some trees will destroy your foundation; some grow year round and could pose an issue if planted beneath power lines. In general, find the trees and shrubs you like and learn where they should go.

It might seem like a lot, and sometimes it is at first. I usually introduce one or two plants at a time and do the research. That way, I know how to care for them. Once I feel like I have a handle on that, I'm ready for more.

When part of a tree turns all brown, that's called flagging. In that case, the tree needs considerable help, or it could be too late to save it. I call in the pros (an arborist) for this.

Bonus time! What do I do with all my leaves?

Leaves can be an excellent fertilizer for your garden and your flower beds. Instead of gathering them in a heap just to get rid of them (after reliving your childhood by jumping in the enormous pile of course), consider a more organic approach: mow your grass, and raking the small clippings into your beds. It's free mulch! And in case you don't know, good mulch can get pricey.

If you live somewhere snakes like to hang out underbrush, be extremely careful when moving piles of leaves or brush. In central North Carolina, we have copperheads. They aren't a significant threat to humans, but they are venomous and will strike you if disturbed. This just happened to me. They bite through regular shoes, so in the future, I will be wearing work boots, as should you. If you have any concerns you may be disturbing snakes, it's best to leave them alone and find someone who can get rid of them for you.

Don't feel like raking after mowing and don't have a blower? Just spread them in your garden or beds. In addition to the nutrients they provide, they also will add the extra insulation your plants need to survive the winter.

While summer is coming to an end, the hard work you put into your lawn and garden is not going to stop paying off. You just need to change your approach a little for the changing season, and your garden will be as productive as ever.

Griffin Kelton