You’re not going to want to hear this, but listen up anyway:
Do your yard work — now.
Every chore you tackle in the fall makes your lawn that much better in the spring — and your spring chore checklist that much shorter.
So that means you do need to rake, especially if you have lots of leaves. Raking removes the thick layer of leaves that can form over winter, leading to snow mold and spring grass kills.
Instead of sending all of your leaves to the composter, bag the leaves and use them to mulch your perennial and vegetable beds and around trees and shrubs. Wait to mulch until the temperature drops in late October or early November.
(I also save bags of leaves to use as summer mulch, especially around my newly planted vegetables. Gathering up leaves is cheaper than buying mulches. And leaves are hard to find in the spring.)
You don’t have to bother raking if you have few leaves in your yard. Just mow over them a couple of times and leave them on the lawn. When they break down, they’ll act as a natural fertilizer.
Speaking of mowing, don’t head into the winter with grass so long that it falls over. Give your lawn one last mow so it’s about 2 inches long.
And, yes, you might need to fertilize your lawn. There’s good news, though.
The University of Minnesota recommends only one fall application of fertilizer in October. Forget the once-recommended second application in early November. Newer research has shown that most of the nitrogen from a later fertilization never gets to the grass. Instead it runs off the surface of the soil or leaches into groundwater.
Fall also is a surprisingly good time to go after weeds, especially the pesky broadleaf weeds, such as creeping Charlie and dandelions.
If you’d like to be environmentally friendly, use a fertilizer with corn gluten meal. A byproduct of corn processing, corn gluten meal is a natural way to go after weeds. It does have one drawback: It tends to produce best results after it’s been applied for a couple of years.
In addition to being a natural herbicide, corn gluten meal contains about 10 percent nitrogen, which makes it a useful fertilizer. In fact, if you use corn gluten meal to control weeds, you may not need to apply any other fertilizer.
Fall also is the best time to reseed thin patches of grass.
Once the weather cools, roughly rake the patches, apply seed and keep the area moist until the ground freezes. (Remember, you can’t apply a weed killer, even corn gluten meal, if you are going to seed.)
You can cut back perennials in fall or spring.
Some folks like a clean look. Others take a more natural approach, leaving perennials with sturdy stalks standing. Many of them offer that much-needed winter interest in a bare garden, provide seeds for the birds and help trap snow, which insulates plant roots for the winter.
We can’t count on Old Man Winter to give us enough snow cover to naturally mulch plants for the entire winter. That means it’s a wise idea to mulch.
Wait until the ground freezes, then place a thick layer of leaves (6 to 8 inches) over your beds (perennial, bulb and veggies) as well as around recently planted trees and shrubs.