Give your yard some love in autumn
New homeowners: Think landscaping is a spring chore? Think again. The best time to start planning your garden and reseeding your lawn is now, in autumn. If you’re just getting acquainted with a new yard, it’s especially important. Here’s a 6-step checklist.
It’d be nice if the keys to the new house came with operating instructions for the lawn and gardens. But, sadly, this is not the case.
So here’s your first tip: Don’t wait until spring.
Why? Because under that cold winter turf lie active roots and fungi and life of all kinds. Weed out the bad and create fertile ground for the good and you’ll awake to spring 10 paces ahead of the neighbors.
“Most people think that summer’s the time to do stuff, but it’s exactly the opposite,” says Paul Martin, president of Leisure Landscapes, in North Carolina. “Fall is our busiest time of year.”
And if it’s a new home, it’s that much more important to run through a basic checklist before winter sets in. So, in case the house didn’t come with a gardener, here are quick guidelines to help you through, in no particular order of importance. After all, every yard is different. Now get outside and have some fun.
1. Take an inventory
Assess the situation: Whether you’re in disaster management or million-dollar beautification, it’s the first phrase out of every manager’s mouth, right? You’ve got to know what you’re dealing with.
Here’s what to do:
- Walk the grounds. How do things look from the street?
- More importantly, how do those bushes and trees and fences make you feel when you gaze out from inside the house?
- Inspect drains and puddles after a rain. Where is the drainage poor?
- Take photos.
- Clip sprigs and stems.
- Even sketch pictures of the layout.
Whatever you can do to identify foliage, spot disease and document the overall look will help you plan accordingly.
Why it’s important:
- You have to know exactly what infestations you may be dealing with in order to effectively tackle them. Nature throws up too many variables for guesswork.
- Issues such as poor drainage can lead to damage outside and in. You need to know before the rain and snow of winter.
- Landscapes change with the seasons and mistakes are not easily undone. A tree that looks scraggly in the fall may provide the only cover in winter. Best to learn — and wait and see — exactly what you’ve got.
“Usually, people, when they move into a home, they don’t know what they have,” says Mark Armstead, a manager and grower at Linder’s Garden Center, in St. Paul, Minn.“Take something you can hold onto, so you can look it up in the winter, whether it be friend or foe.”
Why do it now: Clearly, you want to prevent any damage. Also, how can you figure out what to do in the spring if you can’t recall exactly what the foliage looked like in its season of splendor?
“In the fall, things are fully developed,” says Ann Wickenhauser, director of interior and four-season design for Mulhall’s, a garden center in Omaha, Neb. “You can see what you’ve got.
Bing: Search & decide
“You can say ‘I know this tree is going to need trimming,’ whereas in the wintertime it’s going to look completely done,” she says. “Or, if you have nothing going on in the yard, you can figure out, ‘Oh, here I need a flowerpot’ or, ‘This is my focal area, where I’m looking outside.’”
The cost: It doesn’t have to cost a thing. Bring those curious-looking stems into your local garden center and quiz the staff.
Wickenhauser likes to print out her photos on a home computer and draw on them throughout the winter, mapping out ideas. For a few dollars you can peruse garden magazines, which spend the winter months laying out ideas for spring.
On the flip side, hire a landscape architect to do a full inspection for $1,000 or a gardener to review your plants for much less. A bonus: These experts are less swamped with calls in autumn. Again, ask the folks at your local garden center for resources.
The payoff: You’ll have healthy grounds — a great starter palette — come spring, and you’ll be flush with the most cost-effective landscaping ideas when it’s time to build. You’ll also have had a chance to read up on any homeowners association requirements regarding, say, fencing, and learned where the kids really end up playing and where the garden will get the best sun.
“A really good idea if you’re a new homeowner is if you can get someone to do an overall plan before you start making changes,” Wickenhauser says. “If you come at it with a plan, it starts to take shape and then your stress level is lower because you didn’t make yourself a nightmare.”
You also avoid the old buy and toss. “The money upfront saves you money in the end,” she says.
2. Check for disease
Do leaves look healthy? Are those typical autumn colors and tears or does something seem off? Are trees missing bark? Is excess material or moisture clogging tree trunks?
Why it’s important: Molds and infestations are far more likely to spread than to die out on their own. You can control them or they can control you.
Why you should do it now: One diseased patch now might turn into four by spring. Its growth is not halted by cold, particularly in that rich, insulated earth beneath a snow cover.
The spores of fungus — which can disfigure, rot and kill your plant life — spread in the rain.
Some infestations must be sprayed for in the fall, while others must be tackled very early in the spring — you have to be aware of the problem now.
The cost: You’ll find plenty of do-it-yourself pesticides at a garden center, along with horticulturalists who are familiar with local pests and can likely identify your particular problem. Sometimes raking and — this is the important part — disposing of the leaves elsewhere will take care of things.
If you hire a lawn-care company, make sure to learn about the pesticides the company uses. Check your state’s agriculture department for restrictions and guidelines on safe practices.
If you’re uncomfortable with chemicals, the National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns has resources about organic products and providers.
The payoff: You’ll spend less now than if you wait. And, free of disease, the roots will strengthen over winter for a healthier yard in the warm seasons.