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Fall Into a Beautiful Lawn: Your Autumn Landscaping Checklist

black rake raking fallen fall leaves

Fall may easily be our favorite season, but the transitional weather can turn our happy lawns and gardens into a weepy mess. So, take the time to prep your lawn for the cooler months. You’ll not only have less to do come springtime, but your outdoor space will also flourish with joy. Grass will grow back greener and fuller, your garden beds will be primed for new blooms, and your fall trees and shrubs will remain healthy.

Not sure where to begin with your fall landscaping? We've got you covered with this simple fall landscaping checklist.

1. Stay on top of leaf-raking.

Fallen leaves may look beautiful in their colorful glory, but leaves can damage your grass if left alone. Thick layers of leaves on your lawn can essentially suffocate your grass, robbing it of air, sunlight, and nutrients. By staying on top of your raking, and not letting leaves sit on the grass for more than three or four days, you can keep your grass in better shape.

Make leaf-raking easier with our tried-and-true leaf-raking tips. 

2. Prune back trees and bushes.

man in plaid shirt and gloves cutting back bush with fall leaves

Cutting back dead branches and trimming overgrown shrubs promotes healthier regrowth come spring. Stick to light pruning, cutting carefully between dying branches and the body of the tree or shrub itself after all the leaves have fallen. For best results, cut at an angle.

3. Aerate your lawn.

A job that should be done in early fall, aerating your lawn involves poking holes throughout the soil with a spike. This is an effective way to stimulate water and oxygen circulation, which can keep your grass healthier throughout winter's tough conditions and keep unwanted weeds from popping up. You can typically rent an aerator from your local home improvement store to speed up the job. 

4. Don't forget to fertilize.

Fall (between August and November) is one of the most important times to fertilize your lawn.  The right fertilizer will contain the nutrients your grass needs to survive the winter and come back strong next year. When shopping for a fall lawn fertilizer, look for something with phosphorous to nourish roots. For optimal fall lawn fertilization results, you should:

  • Aerate your lawn beforehand 
  • Use a slow-release fertilizer
  • Never apply fertilizer before heavy rain
  • Add more fertilizer in high-traffic areas
  • Avoid scattering fertilizer on hard surfaces 

5. Seed your lawn, if needed.

If there are any bare or sparse patches of grass on your lawn, patch them up with seed or sod; just be sure to water regularly during times of drought.

6. Give it a final (short) mow.

man pushing lawn mower in yard during fall

Give your lawn one final mow after the last leaves have hit the ground. Cut your grass shorter than you usually would during the warmer months, ideally down to about 1.25 inches, to protect your lawn from disease and prevent a build-up of fallen leaves. 

Fall Lawn Mowing Tips

Mow your lawn like a pro with these tips:

  • Mow at the right time of day. You should mow your lawn between 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM. This morning window is ideal because you won’t disrupt your neighbors, run into dewy grass, or overwork yourself in the heat. As always, review your community’s rules for approved mowing times before revving up the engine.
  • Vary your mowing patterns. Everyone has their preferred mowing style. Some people move their machines in a crisscross pattern, and others mow in waves or ripples. However, experts recommend alternating between a variety of patterns for the best care. Switching things up will lead to a more even cut and prevent patchy areas. It’s also a great way to learn new techniques and try out different looks for your lawn.
  • Use your grass clippings. While your instinct may be to pitch your grass clippings, it’s actually good to spread the excess around. This cut grass naturally replenishes the soil with water and nutrients when it decomposes, increasing moisture retention, decreasing soil temperature, and helping your grass grow back in a stronger, healthier fashion. Use clippings with mulch for an additional boost.
  • Keep your blades sharp. Periodically inspect your mower, making sure the blades stay sharp, balanced, and clean. Instead of slicing, dull blades shred and tear the grass. This can cause discoloration, disease, and other damage that can disrupt all your hard work. A yearly sharpening can thwart these issues and provide neat cuts and a smooth mow.
  • Don't mow grass that's very wet or dry. Check the weather forecast, and pick a cooler, rain-free day for optimal cutting conditions. Mowing during a heat wave or the hottest part of the day can burn or stress the grass. Likewise, cutting grass that’s wet can clog your mower, damage the soil, and inhibit growth.

7. Plant spring-blooming bulbs.

There are plenty of bulbs you can plant during the fall that will bloom beautifully in the spring. Depending on where you live, you might consider planting the following types of bulbs during the fall:

  • Tulips
  • Daffodils
  • Buttercups
  • Bluebell

When planting bulbs, stick to well-drained soil—and be sure to follow the recommendations on the label. In most cases, larger bulbs should be planted about eight inches deep, whereas smaller bulbs can be planted closer to five inches deep.

Want more cold-weather planting tips? Here's everything you need to know about cold-weather planting

8. Mulch garden beds.

A thick layer of mulch applied over your garden beds will not only add curb appeal to your property but will also protect your perennials and other plants from freezing or drying up during the colder months. Meanwhile, pulling weeds from your garden beds now will save you time and hassle in the future and deter unwelcome pests. 

The Takeaway: Fall Landscaping is Necessary 

woman pushing young boy in wheel barrow during fall

Landscaping in fall is absolutely crucial to the health and appearance of your lawn. With these fall yard ideas and landscaping tips for fall, your outdoor area will be in tip-top shape for the coming season. 

However, your lawn isn’t the only thing that needs attention before the winter weather sets in. Check out our fall maintenance checklist for your home for small to-dos to ensure your home is all set and ready for the elements November, December, and January have in store.