A Fall Checklist for Gardeners

A colorful garden.

The end of summer can come quickly for gardeners with the first hint of cooler temperatures at night and the shortening of days. As sunlight wanes and cold air hits, take this as a hint to get going on your fall gardening tasks.

Clean-up Garden Beds and Pots

The fall is a great time to do major clean-up like uprooting spent annuals, dead-heading perennials, weeding garden beds and cleaning and storing pots. Bring in any tropical plants and check for pests. It’s a good time to add manure or compost to your garden to help prepare it for spring.

Plant Fall Color/ Spring Bulbs

Just because cooler temperatures are rolling around doesn’t mean you can’t have some beautiful color in your garden. Lots of fall annuals can withstand the not-so-hot weather: chrysanthemums, ornamental kale, asters, and pansies are some favorites for their rich, bold colors. This is also a good time to get any springtime bulbs planted. Check your regional forecast to see when frost tends to set in.

Final Harvest

Tomatoes on vines.

Gather your final harvests and remove the spent plants as the season wanes. Grab the plant by the root and add them to the compost pile or yard waste. Save any dried seeds for winter birds or leave them till they are foraged. If you have an abundance of fruits and veggies, freeze them in plastic bags or try canning. Herbs can be cut and dried or their pots brought in and set next to a sunny window for year-long enjoyment.

Prepare Lawn and Fertilize

Your lawn will appreciate some TLC during the fall season as it prepares for the long winter ahead. Spread fall fertilizer and continue to water and mow regularly. Set your mower lower than summer height to prevent fungus from growing in tall grass. Lawns will benefit from aeration in cooler temperatures as well as thorough weeding. Mulch fallen leaves with the mower and leave them and grass clippings to add nutrients to the lawn. Rake and cover gardens with any excess leaves.

Divide Perennials

Hostas, lilies, and other well-established perennials that are starting to bunch up can be divided at their root ball. They come apart somewhat easily from each other if you dig far enough underneath but you can also use a small hand spade to carefully pry roots apart. This keeps plants from smothering each other and is a great way to fill in other areas of your garden or to trade with other gardeners. Most perennials can be divided every 3 or 4 years, though it varies so check specific plant information.

Plants Trees and Shrubs

Shrubs in a garden.

Fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs because the weather is just right for them to establish properly. Summer heat promotes top growth and flowering whereas the cool, moist temperatures of fall promote strong, healthy root growth. Just remember they need at least six weeks to establish before the frost. Continue to water new and mature trees and shrubs up until the ground freezes.

Clean Tools and Shut Off Water

When frost has set in for good and the growing season has ended, it's a good time to do some maintenance on your garden tools. Hose off spades, shovels, pots, and other tools and spray some oil on any metal to prevent rust. Shut off water to outside sources and let any hoses drain fully. Wrap them up neatly and store them in a garage or shed.

Rather than lament the summer, you can get excited about your fall gardening tasks. Adding a few bold-colored annuals and doing some important maintenance work will leave you with a sense of satisfaction. Take time to enjoy the growth that fall brings, even if you have to put on a sweater to do so.