Spring is the busiest time of the year for home sellers, and nothing sells a home like attractive, vibrant landscaping. But to have blooming tulips and a lush lawn in May, you have to prepare the ground in autumn. So if you’re considering buying a new home and selling your current one, don’t immediately just start browsing the top home-buying websites — grab your gardening gloves, and start working on your yard.
However, fall landscaping can be a tricky business. Pruning, fertilizing, and mulching require timing, finesse, and knowledge of individual plant requirements. Whether you’re just getting your lilac bushes ready for next year, or planning a big FSBO sale in the spring, here are eight fall landscaping mistakes you’ll want to avoid.
If you leave a layer of leaves on your lawn, they won’t simply disappear over the winter. They’ll become heavy and waterlogged, and begin to decay. Once that happens, they can be host to pests like mice and moles that can seriously damage your landscaping and could help introduce them into your home’s foundation and basement.
Rotten wet leaves can also host destructive fungi that will prevent next year’s grass from growing, and the weight of the leaves can block airflow to your dormant lawn and kill your grass through oxygen deprivation.
Yes, those leaves should be raked. But no, you shouldn’t just bag them up and throw them out. While they can suffocate grass, they can also provide valuable insulation to shrubs, bushes, and young trees. Pack the base of these plants with a thick layer of leaves so the cold doesn’t penetrate the ground and harm the roots.
You could also enrich your soil by mulching the leaves. First, use your mower to reduce them to tiny pieces, and then add them to next year’s beds. They’ll make the soil richer, attracting nutrient-producing earthworms and organic microbes.
Plants like crocuses, tulips, hyacinths, and phlox, should be planted in the fall so they’ll bloom in spring. These plants thrive and grow their root system when the temperature cools. While it can be tough to motivate yourself to garden when the temperatures start to drop, it’ll pay off in the spring when your vibrant flowers burst through.
It’s so much more pleasant to cook when all your pots and pans are already washed from your last meal, and the same applies to gardening. Do yourself a favor by cleaning your tools before you put them away. Wash or scrape away mud and dirt, and sand any rust spots. Consider sharpening your shovels, spades, and mower blades. It’ll make your spring gardening easier and will make your tools last longer.
Don’t forget to prepare your mower for winter, too. Empty the gas tank so fuel doesn’t block the carburetor, drain the motor oil, and scrub the undercarriage so any clinging dirt or grass doesn’t become permanently bonded.
Because winter is coming, don’t cut everything down to the bare ground. Many plants that might look dead over the winter are just dormant, and chopping them down in the fall could cause long-term damage to them.
For example, many grasses should only be trimmed down to about six inches for the winter. Any lower and you risk exposing the roots to frost damage. Many shrubs also only need minimal pruning, or none at all, especially late in the fall. Pruning too late will induce growth that will be vulnerable to winter injury.
Trees, on the other hand, may require protection from the winter cold. If you have new young trees — a common feature in rapidly upgraded house flips — you’ll need to protect them from the cold. Those with thinner bark like ash, maple, or linden will need insulation at the base of the trees, which can be mulch or leaves, and you’ll need to wrap the trunk with protective cloth or plastic tubing.
Don’t stop your gardening regimen just because fall is here. Continue weeding your lawn and flower beds. Many nuisance plants can weather the cold and will return with a vengeance in the spring. If you let them proliferate in the waning days of fall, you could be stuck with overgrown beds in the spring.
You should also keep watering your garden until winter sets in. Plants need more water when it’s hot and dry, and less when it’s cooler — but they still need some water. Also, consider aerating your soil in the fall instead of the spring. Aerating in the spring produces soil receptive to weeds at a time of high growth. Fall aeration avoids that hazard completely.
Many experts recommend fertilizing your lawn in the fall — once when fall first arrives and again about two months later. This will get your soil ready for exploding spring growth. Next year, when mortgage rates have fallen, and people at your crowded open house are complimenting you on your lawn, you’ll be glad you did.
You may also want to consider over-seeding your grass. First, trim your lawn very close, and then spread copious grass seed. Combining overseeding with fall fertilizing will produce a lush, thick lawn when spring arrives.
Hardscaping is a term that includes pathways, tiling, stone paths, gravel, and rocks. These need to be prepared for winter, too. If you have cracks in your hardscaping, make sure you seal them before the first freeze. If water seeps into these cracks and freezes, the expansion could cause serious damage to your hardscaping material.
Once winter hits, keep your hardscaping clear of snow and ice, which can cause damage or staining. If you have an investment property being professionally managed, go over snow removal protocols with your property manager.
If you’re using deicers, make sure they’re not too corrosive. Some chemical deicers can permanently damage stone or tile, especially if left there for a long time. If you apply salt or other deicers, clean them off as soon as it’s feasible. Don’t use a metal shovel on your hardscaping when clearing snow, as the metal blade could crack or ding your hardscaping material.