No Leaf Left Behind: 7 Yard-Prepping Tips for the Season

As the growing season comes to a close, there are still a few more chores that call the gardener to action. Mowing, watering, pruning, and cleaning continue to beckon. But it’s important to prepare your yard for the upcoming season. Here are seven ways to make sure your yard doesn’t “fall” apart.

Keep on mowin’
Lawns need mowing as long as the grass continues to grow—some years continuing through most of the fall. Newly planted flowers, trees, and shrubs should be watered thoroughly every week or so, right up until the ground freezes, especially if rainfall is lacking. Perennials, trees, and shrubs all continue to lose water through the winter, so you want them to go into dormancy with plentiful moisture.

No leaf left behind
Fallen leaves should be recycled, either where they fall or transferred to another spot. Dry leaves can be mowed to bits, gathered for use as winter mulch, or raked to the compost pile. Small leaves such as honey locust may be left as is, but larger leaves such as oak and maple should be shredded to speed decomposition and prevent smothering.

Don’t prune out
Trees and shrubs should be assessed, but fall pruning should be restricted to removal of only dead or damaged limbs. Save major pruning chores for late winter.

Don’t be a fool, clean your tools
Winterize your gardening tools as freezing temperatures become the norm by first giving them a thorough cleaning. Those steel wool scrubbing pads sold for cleaning barbeque grills are great for removing caked-on soil from shovels, hoes, trowels, and spades. Scrub the blades and handles with soap and water, and allow them to dry completely before storing. Rub a little linseed oil or similar protector over wood handles to keep the wood from drying and splitting.

Be the sharpest in the shed
Sharpen your tools now to ensure a quick start in spring when your gardening enthusiasm returns anew.

Drain water from garden hoses and sprinklers, and hang them to dry before coiling the hoses for storage. Hoses left outdoors during the winter are likely to crack and split, especially if they still have water inside. And while you’re at it, now is a good time to replace washers and repair leaks while they are fresh in your mind.

Caution: hazardous material
Rinse and dry your fertilizer spreader and oil moving parts. Pesticide sprayers should be rinsed and allowed to drip dry before storing. The best way to dispose of unused chemicals in the sprayer is to apply the product as directed on the label. Allowing pesticide to sit in the sprayer over winter will result in clogged hoses and nozzles and will be more difficult to clean after the fact. Store unused pesticides in their original containers with the label intact. Place all pesticides away from children’s and pets’ reach in either a locked cabinet or a storage shelf at least 4 feet off the ground and protected from both freezing temperatures and excessive heat.

Winterizing the lawnmower
When you are fairly certain your lawn has seen its last mowing for this season, it’s time to winterize the mower. Check local service providers for those that offer mower winterization or use the following checklist to do it yourself. Check the owner’s manual for your specific machine before you start.

—Drain or stabilize the fuel. You can either run the mower until it is out of fuel, or fill the tank and add a stabilizer product. If choosing the latter, run the mower for a few minutes after adding the stabilizer to allow it to reach the carburetor.

—Change the oil and dispose of used oil properly. Your local recycling center or solid waste management district office can advise.

—Clean the blades/mowing deck. Scrape off caked-on debris using a barbeque scrubber; use thick leather gloves to protect your skin from cuts.

—Charge the battery. If your machine uses a battery, charge it now and repeat periodically through winter.

—Lubricate moving parts. Check owner’s manual for specifics.

—Change plugs and filters and sharpen blades. These can wait until spring, if preferred.

Ah, now it’s time to enjoy some well-deserved R&R curled up next to the fireplace with your favorite gardening book!

B. Rosie Lerner is the Purdue Extension Consumer Horticulturist at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.