This post is sponsored by Lowe’s.
Fall is the best season, right? Crisp, cool days are great for hikes and fall festivals, and the occasional gloomy afternoon calls for a guilt-free Netflix marathon while something tasty slow-cooks in the kitchen. Fall is also a great time for yard work, too! With the right tools, fall prep can be way more satisfying than spending an afternoon on the couch. Promise!
So, as temperatures begin to drop, it’s important to think about the long-term health of your yard through the winter. Here are a few winterizing tasks we tackle after the leaves have begun to fall in order to prep for our harsh Chicago climate. By dedicating a small chunk of time to your yard now, you’ll be rewarded a healthier, happier outdoor space come spring!
Mini Root Assassin Short-Handle Shovel
Scotts Wizz Broadcast Spreader
Craftsman Heavy Duty Gas Leaf Blower w/Vacuum
Sta-Green Weed & Feed
Fall is for Planting!
Fall is a great time for planting, or in this case, transplanting! The hostas lining the fence in our front yard were planted three years ago and have been thriving since then. They were originally split from plants in the yard of the house where I grew up (thanks Mom!) and have been growing like crazy ever since. When the weather starts to change in the fall, the leaves start to brown, letting us know it’s time to trim them back.
The last few years, we’ve simply cut them back 3 or 4 inches from the soil line so they return happy and healthy in spring, but this year, (after a brief FaceTime confirmation from Mom) they had grown large enough that they were ready to be split! Hostas are incredibly hardy and the root balls generally tolerate divisions very well. We simply spread the leaves apart to find a natural ‘middle’ and went to work.
Once we determined a natural split in the leaves, we used a shovel to split the root ball in half, leaving as much soil intact a possible. The Mini Root Assassin was an absolute champion here! The shovel head has ‘teeth’ that cut through roots with very little effort, and it features a narrow, pointed shape that was easy to maneuver between the sidewalk and fence in our tight beds. Once the roots were split, we cut around the portion of root we’d be removing and then used the shovel to lift out the newly halved plant. It was even easier than we anticipated!
While I split the hostas and dug out the halves we’d be moving to the backyard, Kim dug out holes every 16″ or so and planted our new arrivals.
We then trimmed the new plantings back to just above the soil line, and they’ll pop right back up next spring! The first year in their new homes, the hosta halves can be expected to grow in a little bit thinner than the donor plants. But after a year or so, our hope is that they’ll fill in even more until they’re ready to be split again. We’re excited for the day that we can finally join the row of plants up front with the new row out back!
Remove Fallen Leaves
After our hostas were transplanted and trimmed, we used our blower to remove the leaves and excess soil from the planter beds and lawn. This is the first of many rounds of this step, as the leaves on our block tend to fall in waves. I usually blow and vacuum every couple of weeks throughout the fall until the last stubborn maple tree has dropped it’s leaves. Luckily, it’s a quick job when the front yard is only 200 square feet!
In our case, I’ve devised a system over the years in which I blow all of the leaves from the front yard into the below-grade stairwell of our garden unit to keep them getting whisked away in the wind. I then switch the blower over to vacuum mode and suck everything up! Assuming that most yards aren’t as compact as ours, blowing into the corner junction of a fence or utilizing another natural barrier could work in a similar fashion. There’s nothing more frustrating than creating a perfect pile of leaves and having it all ruined by a swift breeze!
A Final Trim of the Grass
A quick (and hopefully final!) mow of the lawn is a great way to mulch up any remaining leaves, as well as keep the grass looking nice through the winter while it’s dormant. I tend to set my mower one setting higher than usual for this trim to keep it looking just a little bit fuller.
Spread a Winter Fertilizing Mix
Once you’re done blowing and mowing, it’s time for the finishing touch! We used the Scotts Wizz broadcast spreader to evenly distribute Sta-Green Weed and Feed throughout our front and tree lawns, and we even had enough left over to treat the grass in front of our neighbor’s house (did I mention our yard is tiny?). The Wizz is battery powered, and with a pull of the trigger, it spreads material easily and without a crank. This allows for simpler one-handed operation, making it so easy that it’s fun!
Once we were all wrapped up, we would have laid the sprinkler out for a bit to allow everything to soak in nicely, but there was rain in the forecast later in the evening, so we just cleaned up and called it a day!
These few quick steps will help our yard come back fuller and greener next spring and save us effort pulling weeds down the road. And the less time we have to spend pulling weeds, the more time we have for spring BBQ’s. Because spring is the best season, right?
What other steps do you take in the fall to keep your yard looking great all year?
Your yard is so gorgeous!!
Thank you, Ellen! Small and mighty, haha.
OMG, NOOOOOOOO!!!!! Do NOT use Weed & Feed! Every time I see/smell that stuff in my local big box stores, my shoulders tense and my jaw clenches, because that stuff is TERRIBLE for not only your yard, but also for the environment in general. Applying in fall is also not the time to fertilize, as it encourages growth right when plants should be entering dormancy. Also the herbicides are toxic to your dogs, your kids crawling around on it, and your trees. We get calls at the extension office all the time from people who have accidentally poisoned their trees with Weed & Feed. The runoff from these products causes algae blooms & kills/sickens fish & frogs in your local waterways.
And from a soil microbiology standpoint, petroleum-based fertilizer products actually kill many of the soil microbes that help plants absorb nutrients, which will make your yard dependent on those petroleum-based products (smart business strategy for Bayer & Monsanto, not great for you or your yard). If you want to get all geeky about the soil microbiology aspect, I’m happy to recommend several books on the subject that were written for laypeople.
Here’s an article that outlines all of this: https://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/homegarden/article/Weed-and-feed-products-are-toxic-Period-1146796.php
If you’re worried about feeding your lawn and trees, rake a thin layer of compost over your lawn and make sure you’re using a mulching mower. Mulching your lawn clippings back into the lawn will return the nitrogen to the soil.
Sorry for the rant, but this subject is near and dear to my heart and watching people do bad things with good intentions just makes me so frustrated!
Thanks for the info! We certainly appreciate the perspective and will read up on the subject and consider changes for the next time around.
Great article, I like your trick for vacuuming leaves. I’d skip the weed n feed in the fall since the frost will kill the weeds anyway (for free!). A high potassium fertilizer will help the lawn prepare for the stress of winter. Any fertilizer that says winter on the bag should be high K. The weed n feed will be more effective in the spring in my opinion.
The hostas will fill that line in no time and are perfect for it. I, like Lori, am also against Weed n Feed. I am the goofball who hand weeds with a knife. Woe betide a dandelion in my yard.