How to prepare your yard in the fall for winter
Person raking leaves

As the leaves change from green to golden and the air turns nippy, autumn is a time of crisp days, cool nights and enjoying the last of the mild weather before winter’s chill sets in. If you’re a homeowner with a yard and a garden and you want to give them the best start next spring, there are a few important things to do each season before the snow falls. Here are the basics to get you started.

Get your lawn in order

Do you have a lawn? Chances are you do, and you probably want it to look as vibrant, lush and healthy as possible come spring. To achieve this, there are a couple important tasks to do each fall. The first is mowing the grass to about 4-6cm, which will act as a protective barrier for the roots underneath. Likewise, it’s a good idea to leave the clippings where they fall, as they act as mulch over the winter and return much-needed nitrogen to the soil. Then give your lawn one last watering and, if possible, aerate it to create more room for nutrients, worms and microorganisms to penetrate the lawn. Experts also suggest laying down a fresh scattering of seeds and fertilizer, both of which will help your lawn come back healthy and green in the spring.

Save your leaves

The raking and bagging of leaves each fall is a time-honoured tradition, but leaving some leaves in place can be a good thing for your garden. Because fallen leaves provide shelter to hibernating insects over the winter - and insects are vital to the health of any garden (and the planet in general) - leave as much leaf litter on the ground as you can tolerate. If you like the idea of a clear lawn, you can also rake the leaves into your beds, where they’ll act as mulch over the winter and protect your bulbs and perennials. If you have a compost pile (and somewhere dry to store leaves over the winter), you’ll also want to save as many leavese as you can to mix in over the coming months, which will add vital nutrients to your compost and help to prevent odours. 

Put your beds to bed

In addition to laying down a mulch blanket of fallen leaves, it’s a good idea to trim your perennials, removing all dead growth from hostas, lilies and other common varieties. This not only makes your beds look tidier, but it makes it easier for the plant’s new growth in spring.

Protect your shrubs

Mature coniferous (aka evergreen) shrubs will do just fine on their own all winter long, but young evergreens, as well as more delicate deciduous shrubs, benefit from a little protection. Wrap young evergreens in burlap to prevent windburn and desiccation and, along with your other shrubs, continue watering them until the first frost. It’s also recommended to add a layer of mulch or straw around the trees’ roots once the ground is frozen, which can prevent the winter’s freeze-thaw cycle from pushing them out of the ground.

Winterize your mower (and get your snowblower ready if you have one)

Now that you’re done mowing for the year, it’s time to clean up your trusty rig and prepare it for the off-season by clearing the blade and blade surround of grass clippings and debris. If there’s still fuel in the tank, you can syphon it out for use elsewhere or add a fuel stabilizer which will preserve it over the winter. Don’t forget to run the mower for a couple of minutes after the stabilizer is added to ensure it circulates throughout the engine. If your mower needs a service, now is also the best time to bring it into the shop. Also, if you have a snowblower, this is a great time to fire it up and ensure it’s in good working order.

Wrap up your furniture

Outdoor furniture is built to withstand the elements, but that doesn’t make it impervious to the ravages of UV rays, rain and winter deep freezes. The secret to keeping your patio furniture pristine is to protect it, either by moving it indoors for the winter or covering it up tightly with a waterproof cover.

Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.

Jeremy Freed is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.
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