Once again, it’s the time of year when the warm, lazy days of summer have finally and fully given way to the crisp, cozy, and vibrant autumn season. The sun rises later and sets earlier, the temperatures are trending downward, and the trees are getting ready to put on a dazzling fall foliage display.
If you have a lawn, garden, and outdoor living space, now’s also the time to prepare them for the winter. By giving each of these areas some attention in the fall, you can protect them from the snow, ice, wind, and sub-zero temperatures and ensure they’re ready for the coming spring.
Here are 12 easy ways to winterize your yard and outdoor living spaces before the first hard frost arrives:
Autumn Lawn Management
Winterizing your lawn prepares it for dormancy and gives it a head start when spring arrives.
1. Get rid of weeds
If your lawn contains unsightly weeds, now’s a great time to pull them. Perennial weeds compete against your grass for nutrients, which are scarcer and all the more important through the dormant winter months. While you’re at it, remove any weeds that are growing in your garden beds, too.
2. Feed your grass
Here in the Midwest, lawns do best when they’re fed, or fertilized with nutrients, four times a year: once in early spring, once again in late spring, once in the summer, and a final time in the fall, before the first hard frost.
A fall feeding helps your lawn prepare for dormancy. Applying an organic, phosphate-free fertilizer will strengthen its root system, increase its nitrogen storage, and help ensure you have a lush, healthy lawn as soon as spring arrives.
3. Mow with care
It’s never a good idea to mow your lawn too often or cut your grass too short, but it’s especially important to mow with care in the fall.
Let your grass grow a bit longer between each mowing as the temperatures drop; in general, you should cut your grass every two weeks until the trees are bare. To avoid snow mold, leave your grass about two inches high after its final fall mowing.
4. Mulch fallen leaves
Mowing every couple of weeks is a great way to mulch any leaves that have fallen on your lawn, but you’ll still have to take care of the piles that fall after your final mowing.
Instead of blowing them into the street or collecting them in yard waste bags, try mulching them with your mower and collecting them in its grass catcher attachment. Mulched leaves are a great “insulation blanket” for perennial beds, or you can use them to regenerate your compost.
Pre-Winter Garden Care
Cleaning out and covering your perennial and edible garden beds protects them from the harsh winter elements and ensures they’re ready to go as soon as the soil begins to thaw.
5. Clean out your perennial beds
Perennial beds contain the plants and flowers that return year after year. To ensure they come back stronger each spring, it’s important to cut them back each fall — removing dead stalks and leaves helps your plants go dormant and makes them more disease-resistant.
Cleaning up and mulching (see below) work together to keep your perennial beds disease-free and insulated through cold winter weather. If you don’t plan to mulch your beds, don’t clean them out — the dead stalks and leaves can provide some protection for perennial root systems.
6. Clear debris from edible gardens
After harvesting your final crop of herbs, vegetables, and fruits from your edible garden, clear away all remaining plant debris from the bed. Leaving dead or dying plant matter for the winter could preserve any existing pests and plant diseases into the new growing season.
Once your beds are clear, break up the soil with a rototiller and test its pH level. If levels are low, the time to apply lime is now — it takes several months for a lime application to improve the soil.
7. Plant spring bulbs
If you’ve always been a fan of colorful and often fragrant springtime flowers like hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, and crocuses, now’s the time to plant the bulbs that will bring you a bounty of blooms in April. Just be sure to pick a good spot to grow them; most bulbs do best in full sun.
8. Insulate your garden beds
Once your garden beds are clear of the past season’s plant debris and you’ve planted the spring bulbs you’d like to grow, protect each bed with a generous layer of mulch (shredded wood and/or chopped leaves works just fine). To prevent rot, keep the mulch mixture at least three inches away from each plants’ main stalks.
Outdoor Space Winterization
Taking the time to winterize your outdoor living space keeps each element in prime condition for years to come. It also helps you keep your space comfortable and usable all year long.
9. Clear off your deck or patio
Clear dirt and debris off your deck and patio regularly throughout the fall so leaves, twigs, and other remains of the season won’t be trapped by snow and ice until the spring thaw. Enduring a season of piled wet leaves and debris can rot wooden decks and stain stone or concrete surfaces.
It’s also a good idea to remove outdoor furniture and planters and store them for the winter (see below). If you plan to use outdoor planters for winter greens, it’s best to keep them off wooden decks and concrete patios.
10. Protect wood structures
Unpainted wood surfaces take a beating in a four-season climate like the one we have here in the Midwest; keep your wood structures in peak condition by applying a protective waterproof sealant every fall.
This includes wooden decking, rails, steps, and built-in benches as well as unpainted wooden pergolas, gazebos, and pavilions. It’s also a good idea to seal wood outdoor furniture each fall, especially if you don’t plan to store it in a shed, garage, or basement.
11. Close your outdoor kitchen
Prepare your outdoor kitchen for cold winter weather by cleaning it thoroughly. Cover your sink and built-in grill but keep your refrigerator and icemaker uncovered. After you unplug, empty, and clean the fridge, leave it slightly open to let it dry. Leaving your outdoor refrigerator this way until spring helps prevent mold.
Don’t forget to shut off the main water line to your outdoor kitchen and drain all the water lines to your refrigerator, icemaker, and sink.
12. Store or cover outdoor furniture
Store your outdoor furniture in a shed, the garage, or the basement unless you plan to continue using it through the winter months. If you don’t plan to put it away, you can use special waterproof covers to protect it from the elements.
Clean outdoor cushions and pillows and store them with your outdoor furniture, or, if you plan to continue using them, keep them in a waterproof outdoor box for easy access. Just don’t leave them out when they’re not being used.