The hot days of summer are gone, and the cooler days of fall are here. There is nothing like being outdoors, enjoying the cooler weather. There is less gardening to do in the fall; however, there still is plenty of yard work that has to be done. Much of the summer season involved growing and harvesting. The fall season is more dedicated to cleaning up the yard and garden and getting ready for next year. The cooler weather should at least inspire us to tackle those fall chores. 

Lawn Cleanup

As the summer season winds down, the home lawn will only need to be mowed a few more times, but before retiring that lawn mower for its long winter nap, it is a good idea to mow the lawn one or two more times to clean up the yard before the autumn and winter months arrive.  Just as there is spring cleaning, there is also fall cleaning.

Mowing the lawn and bagging the clippings will help remove many of those weed seeds that anticipated sprouting this winter. It also will help to get rid of any other debris, such as leaves, mushrooms, twigs, etc., and it will add that nice clean look to your lawn for the winter. Whether you call it mowing the lawn or vacuuming the yard, doing so will help reduce much of your yard work in the long run. 

Raking Leaves

Raking leaves is usually the number one chore for the fall and, occasionally, must be repeated a few times, depending on how many trees are around the home. The most common practice of getting rid of leaves has always been piling them up; and then, burning them or hauling them off.  That may be easy but is not necessarily a wise choice. Instead, mimic nature and recycle them into something more useful and beneficial.  

The easy method is to do nothing. Letting the leaves stay under trees as mulch is not only natural but also beneficial to trees. In reality, this is what nature intended in the first place. In a forest, the leaves protect the trees’ roots and hinder grass or weeds from growing under trees.   Leaves and nutrients are then recycled back into the soil. If this same process was duplicated in yards, landscape trees would be much more healthy.  

There are so many ways fallen leaves could be used. Mowing and shredding them out in the yard will decompose them faster and will add organic matter to the lawn and soil. Putting them in a compost pile is a great idea, as this will help break them down and recycle them into humus, which is the perfect soil amendment. Storing them in the abandon garden and later turning them in will help improve the garden’s soil structure and fertility. The unwanted leaves could also be shredded and used as a fine mulch around plants. 

The absolute worst thing to do is to bag fallen leaves up and throw them out with the garbage.  This habit only passes the what-to-do-with-them problem on to someone else and creates more storage and expense problems in the landfill. Burning them can be quite appealing but is a real waste of something valuable to our plants.   

Apply Mulch

Mulching plants is one of the most neglected and underrated garden and landscape chores. The advantages of mulch far outweigh the disadvantages. Placing some type of mulch around plants will help suppress weeds in the bed or garden, help hold in and conserve moisture, control and maintain soil temperature during the summer and winter, improve soil structure as it decays, and add beauty to the appearance of the garden and landscape. The only disadvantage of mulch is the cost and task of replacing it.

Apply mulch to new plants and replace old mulch, if necessary, around existing plants before winter arrives. As a general rule, no more than 3 inches of mulch should be placed around plants.  More is not better; exceeding 3 inches of mulch could create other plant problems, like poor air circulation and surface root development into the mulch. Existing mulch that has decayed severely can be topped with a newer layer.      

There are several types of mulch that could be used. Pine straw and pine bark by far are the most popular for landscape plantings, but newspaper, shredded leaves, aged wood chips, straw, grass clippings and pea gravel could all be used, depending on the situation. Take advantage and gather up the new fallen leaves or pine needles in your own yard or in your neighbor’s yard; mulch can be expensive, so using what is free will really help you save some money.  

Plant Flower Bulbs

Fall is also the time to plant spring flowering bulbs, such as daffodils, narcissus, tulips, lilies, crocuses, hyacinths and irises. Most are planted in the fall and bloom the following spring well before most perennials and annuals. In Alabama, spring flowering bulbs are planted from September through November, with October usually being the recommended time.

If you buy bulbs to plant, always buy them from a reputable dealer. Avoid bulbs that are soft or look molded or discolored. Select large, firm bulbs without blemishes or rotten spots and store them in a cold, dry place until planting time. Temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit may damage the flower bulbs. A general rule of thumb for planting depth (from top of bulb to soil surface) is two to three times the greatest diameter for bulbs 2 inches or more in diameter, and three to four times the greatest diameter for smaller bulbs.

There is a direct correlation between the quality of the bulb and the quality of the flower purchased. Beware of bargain bulbs; they are often of inferior quality or size and don’t bloom well. Bulbs are generally graded and sold according to size. Large bulbs produce larger and/or multiple flowers, but the largest bulbs are not necessary for good landscape effect. In most cases, medium grades are preferred. 

Take advantage of the cooler weather and enjoy the outdoors, even if it requires some yardwork.  

Shane Harris is the county extension coordinator for Tallapoosa County.