10 Essential Fall Gardening Tasks to Do Right Now (You'll Be So Glad You Did)

Tackle this list of fall gardening chores, then get back to that hot toddy. You deserve it!
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While it might seem like fall and winter are your chance to cozy up with a hot toddy in front of the fireplace and ignore the garden, there are actually lots of things you can do now that will be valuable come spring. I've come up with a hit list of things, both fun and easy and others admittedly a little ho-hum, you can do to prep your yard and garden for winter. When you're done, you have my wholehearted support in getting back to that toddy: you deserve it!

Raking Leaves

Raking Leaves

Spring tine rake for scarifying turf and clearing up fall leaves

Photo by: DK - Gardening Shortcuts

DK - Gardening Shortcuts

Get Something Colorful in the Ground

Vibrant Wild Tricolor Pansies

Vibrant Wild Tricolor Pansies

Photo by: DK - How to Grow Practically Everything © 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - How to Grow Practically Everything, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Nothing beats the winter blues like bright, perky flowers and interesting texture to spruce up an otherwise brown and uneventful fall and winter garden. Some options to try are violas, pansies, asters, garden mums, 'Autumn Joy' sedum, sweet alyssum and ornamental cabbage and kale. A big garden trend is combining ornamentals and edibles, so feel free to go crazy and mix in some pretty edible Lacinato or Red Russian kale or rhubarb next to your fall annuals.

Plant Some Edibles

Small Raised Garden Bed With Cool-Season Vegetable

Small Raised Garden Bed With Cool-Season Vegetable

A raised garden bed is filled with cool-season vegetables, including (from front) broccoli, Swiss chard, onions, kale, purple cabbage and red lettuce.

Photo by: Jane Colclasure/P. Allen Smith

Jane Colclasure/P. Allen Smith

Don't stop vegetable gardening just because it's cold out. There are plenty of lettuces and greens that will mature quickly, before intense winter cold sets in (and some even taste better with a touch of frost, like kale). Try planting lettuces, turnips, mustard greens, collards and kale and be sure to mix a rich compost into your vegetable garden to give those edibles a good head start. In very cold regions, frost blankets can protect lettuces and tender greens even into colder weather.

Alternatively, if you don't want to plant edibles, consider planting a cover crop (winter rye, field peas, clover) in your vegetable beds to enrich the soil over the winter.

Clean Your Tools

Cleaning Tools Extends Life and Prevents Disease

Cleaning Tools Extends Life and Prevents Disease

Photo by: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Herbs © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Simple Steps to Success: Herbs, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Treat your tools well and they will last far longer. Before you tuck them away for the winter, wash off crusted dirt and chemicals, to prevent rusting. Sharpen and oil your tools, adding linseed oil to wooden handles to prevent cracking. Other tool maintenance ideas:

  • Drain gasoline from power tools and make sure air filters are clean before storing.
  • Drain gasoline from your mower, change the oil, grease the engine and change the spark plug if it needs it.
  • Drain your rain barrel.
  • Change the oil in your rototiller and sharpen the tines.
  • Clean and degrease your grill.

Plant Spring-Blooming Bulbs

Allum Purple Sensation Good Plant for Sandy Soil

Allum Purple Sensation Good Plant for Sandy Soil

Photo by: DK - Gardening Step by Step © 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Gardening Step by Step , 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

When nighttime temperatures are in the 40- to 50-degree range, it's time to plant pretty bulbs to guarantee a gorgeous spring show: alliums (we like 'Gladiator' and 'Drumstick'), tulips, daffodils and crocus are all great to get in the ground right now.  Just remember to mulch after planting.

Get Houseplants Ready for Indoors

Houseplant on Table in Front of Brick Wall

Houseplant on Table in Front of Brick Wall

A ZZ plant (official name Zamioculcas zamiifolia) is an easy-going, dependable house plant. ZZ, with its thick upright stems and dark-green glossy leaves, accents a room and tolerates low light.

Photo by: Blumz by JRDesigns

Blumz by JRDesigns

Flush pests from potted plant soil by watering several minutes apart outside. Clean up dead leaves and other damaged bits. Spray your plants with insecticidal soap a few days before moving them inside to also give pests the boot. Mulch your plants too, to keep them neat indoors. You might want to consider re-potting any houseplants that have grown in size, upsizing to a larger pot and giving them fresh soil while you're at it.

Get Foundation Plants in the Ground

Plant Tree

Plant Tree

Positioning the tree in the hole so its best side is on view. Lady is backfilling around the tree with multi-purpose compost and topsoil.

Photo by: DK - Gardening Shortcuts

DK - Gardening Shortcuts

Shrubs, perennials and trees do well when planted in the fall, just remember you still need to regularly water them to give them a good start. Shrubs also provide great habitats and food for birds over the cold winter. Find out what to plant to keep birds happy here.

Now is also a good time to relocate existing shrubs if they aren't working for you in their present digs.

It's Not Just About Raking Those Leaves: It's What You Do With Them

Shred Raked Leaves and Add to Compost

Shred Raked Leaves and Add to Compost

Photo by: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover © 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover , 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

It's bad to leave piles of leaves on the ground because they can harbor plant diseases and pests and harm lawn grass. A leaf blower with a vacuum and mulching feature can be a great way to shred leaves for either composting or mulching your garden beds. Mulching lawn mowers with a bag attachment to catch the leaves are also a great way to create low-cost garden mulch. And if you don't have one already, consider starting a compost pile this fall for those piles of leaves. While you're at it, reseed bare patches in your lawn once those leaves are gone.

Fall and Winter Lawn Care 05:57

In cool weather, perhaps more than ever, the lawn needs your attention.

Super Easy Garden Task: Go Shopping!

Fall is a great time to hit up the end-of-season sales when patio furniture and garden equipment is being reduced to clear up space for new merchandise.

Clean Up the Garden

Check Plant's Health

Check Plant's Health

Before buying a plant, give it a quick check to make sure you take home a healthy one. First look at the leaves and stems for signs of pests and diseases, and reject any plant with wilted foliage. Large weeds growing in the pot are also a sign of neglect. Then, turn over the pot. If a mass of roots is growing through the drainage holes, the plant has been in its pot too long — a condition known as "root bound." Finally, look for plants with lots of leafy stems and fat flower buds. Just a few roots showing through the drainage holes suggest that the plant has a well-established root system but hasn't been in its pot for too long.

Photo by: DK - How to Grow Practically Everything © 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - How to Grow Practically Everything, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Fallen fruits and veggies harbor pests and diseases, so clear out all of your rotten tomato remnants and other edible debris. Just remember not to compost diseased plants if you have some in your veggie garden: they can ruin your next harvest. Other key clean-up tasks:

  • Cut back perennials.
  • Mulch beds to protect and help plants retain water in the months ahead.
  • Continue to weed your garden, even when temperatures drop.
  • Pruning deciduous trees is also a great fall garden task because with leaves gone you can easily see the shape of the tree and know best how to prune. Just don’t prune flowering trees like crape myrtle, peach, cherry or plums, which should be pruned near their bloom time.

Save Seeds

Hand Weeding is Best Way to Clear Soil of Weeds

Hand Weeding is Best Way to Clear Soil of Weeds

Photo by: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Vegetable Gardening , 2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Be a clever, frugal gardener and save seeds to grow more plants next year. Gather seeds from spent plants and place them in paper envelopes or paper bags (or go homestead-elegant, and store them in apothecary jars as seen here. Just make sure the seeds are completely dry before storing) and make sure you label them so you know what you have come spring. Get tips for saving seeds here.

Spring Seed-Starting Kit 01:04

Who wouldn't love to get a winter gift that contains the promise of spring?

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