Rake leaves off of pathways, ground cover plants and lawns (or you can mow them into the grass). Instead of adding them to the green bin, put the leaves to work in your garden. Try spreading leaves under trees and shrubs, keeping away from trunks, where they can decompose slowly over the winter, adding nutrients and organic matter back into the soil.
See more ways to put your fall leaves to work in the garden
Spreading a layer of bark mulch is one of the easiest ways to make a garden look well-kept if you have guests coming over, and it’s great for the garden any time of year. Mulching in fall and winter helps prevent stormwater runoff and protects tender perennials, bulbs and shallow-growing roots from cold damage as temperatures drop. Spread a layer of mulch 2 to 4 inches deep (the deeper the better for cold protection) on top of any areas of bare soil in planting beds, making sure to keep the mulch 2 to 4 inches away from the trunks of trees or shrubs.
Give gravel pathways, patios and driveways an instant pick-me-up with a fresh layer of gravel. Topping up gravel on pathways by 1 to 2 inches can help keep boots drier and cleaner, reducing mud tracking into the house.
If you’re ordering for delivery from a local building-materials store, do so well in advance of the holidays and arrange for any assistance with spreading the gravel, if needed.
Clear leaves and debris from gutters, making note of any areas that need patching or repairing. Run a hose down your downspouts to loosen and free stuck leaves. Check that runoff from downspouts directs into garden beds, rather than onto walkways, and make any adjustments needed.
Move tender potted plants into greenhouses, sunny windows indoors or other sheltered areas. Stock up on or locate supplies — such as frost blankets, old blankets and cloches — for protecting in-ground plants that can be susceptible to frost damage. Dust off cold frames, if you have them, and position them over plants.
Clear out seasonal container arrangements, tossing annuals into the compost bin and planting perennials into gardens beds if you’d like to save them. Potting soil cleared of root balls can be emptied and raked onto beds as a mulch or dug into garden soil as an amendment.
In cold areas, move ceramic and terra-cotta containers into a garage or shed, or place them against the house and cover them with a tarp to prevent them from cracking during the freeze-thaw cycle. The less exposure to moisture they receive, the better.
Take a look around your yard, particularly in high-use areas like the pathway to the front door. Are there any spots that could pose a hazard to guests or elderly family members, like a crack in a deck step, a wobbly railing or slick flagstones? What about any tree branches that may have died and are at risk of falling? Make repairs, clean walkway surfaces and cut back branches as needed.
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In cold-winter regions, outdoor kitchens need to be winterized to prevent any damage from occurring between now and when you’ll be using them again next spring. Start by shutting off any water lines running to the outdoor kitchen and emptying the lines (including the small ones running to the outdoor fridge, sink and ice maker) of any remaining water. Open the tap and drain valves to prevent any residual water left in the lines from freezing and causing damage. Clean the grill, fridge and sink and then cover them to prevent damage from snow and ice.
Shut off exterior water in cold-winter regions, then open the tap and drain irrigation lines to prevent damage, just as you would for an outdoor kitchen.
In mild-winter areas, where irrigation runs all year, use this as a time to check the system. Run the system during the daytime and observe if there are any sprinklers that need re-aiming over beds or if any areas of drip are damaged or in need of replacement. Make any necessary changes and then dial back frequency rates to factor in cooler temperatures and more rainfall.
Brush off outdoor chairs, remove cushions and wipe down outdoor tables as you get ready to put them away for the season or use them as a place for holiday hosting. If you’re planning to use your outdoor furniture through the winter, consider adding a heat source and having extra throw blankets on hand to drape over laps.
You can wait to prune fruit trees until after the holidays, but get the tools properly cleaned now so you’re ready to go later. To sanitize clippers and loppers, dip the cutters in a solution of rubbing alcohol and water or bleach and water, remove them and allow them to fully dry. This step helps prevent the spread of disease from plant to plant. Use the same method for trowels and shovels, scrubbing them clean of dirt first, and rub wooden handles with furniture oil before putting them away.
You don’t even need to deal with potting soil to brighten up an entrance with a seasonal arrangement. Take an empty container and fill it with cut branches of magnolia, birch, curly willow or conifers, and you’ll have a display that will last through the holidays. In cold-winter regions, keep ceramic containers dry under an overhang to prevent damage.
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