Fall gardening checklist – 9 ways to prepare your yard

Our fall gardening checklist will help you get your backyard in shape this season

Fall plants on cottage
(Image credit: Getty Images/OKrasyuk)

Everyone needs a fall gardening checklist to make sure they get the most out of the season. It's the key time to plant shrubs, trees and perennial bulbs, in addition to collecting seeds and propagating plants to grow your collection for free. 

Instead of bagging them up for the recycling bin, an abundance of leaves can be turned into a beneficial leaf mold, while shredded material from pruning can be transformed into a rich compost to give something back to the garden. 

In addition to perfecting your outdoor fall decor, it's also a time for tidying up and cleaning tools, as well as checking everything is in order for the winter months ahead. You might even have time to weatherproof a shed, pergola or fence.

Fall is such a busy time in the gardening calendar, so be sure to include our round-up in your to-do list. 

9 jobs for your fall gardening checklist

Contrary to what some might think, fall is not a season of shut down in the garden. There are plenty of things to be getting on with that will extend the color in your garden in early fall. 

Now is the time to get on with all those fall maintenance jobs, so you can use this handy checklist to keep ticking items off the list. 

A view of the garden, lawn and herbaceous border.

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

1. Spruce up your lawn 

As we approach autumn there are a several things we can do as part of our fall gardening checklist to get lawns in good condition after the summer.

'Trim it a tad shorter than usual, like a stylish haircut,' says Ward Dilmore, founder and CEO of Petrus Landscaping. 'Then give your lawn a cozy blanket by applying a tailored fall fertilizer, nourishing its roots for the colder days ahead.'

When leaves begin to fall, make sure you remove them in order to aerate your lawn as quickly as possible, as they will block air and light, which grass needs to survive.

If your lawn is looking tired and patchy, turn things around by reseeding it. September is the perfect month to do this, as there is still enough warmth and light. 'Reseeding rectifies bare patches, promoting a denser, lush lawn. For optimal results, do this immediately after aerating to ensure the seeds bond well with the soil,' says Gene Caballero, co-founder of GreenPal.

Another benefit of reseeding at this time of year is any weeds that find their way into your newly sown lawn can easily be removed before their own roots have a chance to develop.

Also consider limiting lawn traffic, says Gene. 'Your lawn becomes increasingly fragile as temperatures drop. It's advisable to minimize foot traffic and refrain from placing heavy objects on the grass during this period.'

Gene Caballero
Gene Caballero

Gene Caballero is a seasoned landscaping expert with over 25 years of experience. As the co-founder of GreenPal, the "Uber for lawn care", he's overseen its growth from inception in one city to now servicing over 250 major markets. His deep industry knowledge and innovative approach make him a respected figure in the landscaping business arena.

Gardentools stood on end on a brick wall

(Image credit: Oliver Gordon)

2. Treat your tools to some TLC this fall

Always make routine tool care part of your fall gardening checklist. Garden tools such as lawn mowers, chainsaws and leaf blowers all have moisture-sensitive components that can get damaged by exposure to damp. Forks, spades, rakes and shears also have a tendency to rust in cold and wet weather conditions.

'Your trusty garden tools, companions in your horticultural journey, deserve their autumnal spa day. Cleanse, sharpen, and lubricate them, ensuring they stand ready for the next growing season,' says Ward.

It's good practice to clean garden tools before you store them to remove dirt. For handles, use a solution of mild soap and water and clean with a stiff bristle brush before rinsing and drying them well.

Clean dirt and debris off of pruning shears and sharpen any dull blades, says Lindsey Chastain, founder and CEO of Waddle and Cluck. 'Rub metal surfaces with a light coating of oil to prevent rusting. Store hoses, sprinklers and other watering equipment in a dry covered area.'

Ward Dilmore
Ward Dilmore

Ward Dilmore is a landscape designer and Founder of Petrus Landscape, redefining outdoor spaces in the Bay Area, California. With an unconventional blend of horticulture expertise and international relations background, Ward brings youthful innovation and sustainable creativity to his designs.

3. Get your shed prepped for winter

Garden shed in the fall

(Image credit: Getty Images/Timefreezer)

Fall is the time to check things over and that includes getting your shed ship-shape. It's definitely a good time to learn how to weatherproof a shed in preparation for the colder months ahead. 

Once you’ve tidied up and considered these shed organisation ideas, use a ladder to inspect the roof for any moss or algae build-up. Gently remove this and use warm, soapy water to rinse down the roof and sides of the shed with a soft brush.  

It's important to keep your shed watertight to make it less susceptible to moisture damage.

If your shed hasn’t had a fresh coat of paint lately now's the time to learn how to paint a shed properly to ensure it's protected for winter.

Garden pond

(Image credit: Getty Images/cjmckendry)

4. Carry out pond maintenance 

Garden ponds and water features need attention at the end of the summer season, so don't overlook them when it comes to your fall gardening checklist. If you live in an area that experiences cold winters, drain and close down any fountains and other water features before winter to prevent them freezing and cracking in cold weather. 

If your water feature is solar powered give it a good clean using warm water and a specialist cleaner. Carefully remove the solar panel/pump and clean it in warm water, then store it in the shed. 

Pond plants are important in winter as they play a key role in a ponds' ecosystem by oxygenating the water. They can be left where they are but will need to be cut back to remove any dying foliage rotting in the water. 

'Once you've removed decaying plant material, clear out excess algae to keep the water clear,' says Lindsey Chastain. 'Stop feeding fish once water temperatures drop below 50°F. You may want to invest in a pond heater or de-icer to keep a hole open in frozen ponds so gases can escape.'

Lindsey Chastain
Lindsey Chastain

Lindsey Chastain is the founder and CEO of The Waddle and Cluck. She started gardening in 2005, when her first son was born, as a way to save money. It started with a small window herb garden, then expanded to potted vegetables, and now, she and her husband can regularly be spotted in the garden on their homestead.

5. Refresh your planting scheme for fall

Fall planter ideas with purple ornamental cabbage

(Image credit: Unsplash/Yoksel Zok)

As the summer draws to a close and a new season is about to begin, you might be wondering what type of plants can still be added to your fall garden. The good news is that there's still plenty of planting to be done, as long as you know what to plant when.

Autumn is the best time of year to plant many kinds of hardy plants in your garden. It’s a sweet spot as the soil is still warm, plus we usually get some rain at this time of year too so the new roots will develop quickly and get your plants established.

Early fall is the perfect time to refresh your garden with colorful blooms. You could even refresh your fall planters to inject some seasonal color to your fall porch decor. 

Perennials are best planted in spring or early to mid fall. With its gorgeous orange and yellow colors planting a kniphofia (red hot poker) is a good way to add autumn color to your garden.

pruning a hedge

(Image credit: Andrii Shablovskyi / Alamy Stock Photo)

6. Start pruning shrubs and hedges

Fall is typically a key time of year for pruning shrubs, both deciduous and evergreen. It will keep shrubs healthy and in good shape. Treat plants to a trim now and this will keep things smart right through autumn and into spring. 

Make sure you choose the right tools for the job. In addition to the best secateurs and garden shears you can use electric trimmers, loppers and handsaws for bigger jobs.

Make sure tools are sharp and rust free, and try an antibacterial spray to disinfect them to prevent any plant diseases spreading. Our guide on how to clean pruning shears has lots of tips to keep yours in top condition.

Take care around new shoots. If you prune new shoots in autumn, it may encourage a growth spurt and these tender stems won’t have time to harden off and will be damaged by frost, which can be detrimental to your shrub.

pink tulips in pot

(Image credit: Alan Novelli / Alamy Stock Photo)

7. Plant a selection of spring bulbs in fall

Fall is the best time for planting bulbs for spring. Early spring flowering bulbs, such as daffodils, crocus and hyacinths, will bring a welcome injection of early color to the garden. Plant them in the first month of autumn. If you're planting tulips, these can be planted later, up until the end of fall. Meanwhile summer-flowering bulbs, such as lilies and alliums, are best planted in early to mid fall.

If you're planting daffodil bulbs, crocus bulbs or any other varieties in borders, prepare the soil by turning it over and adding organic matter. Then simply dig a hole wide and deep enough for your bulb. Most bulbs need to be planted two to three times their own depth, but always check the instructions. Place the bulbs in the hole flat end down, so that the point is upwards. Planting in groups rather than straight lines looks best.

You can get away with planting bulbs closer together as part of your fall planter ideas, using a lasagne technique to layer different types of bulbs that will flower at different times in the season. Plant the bulbs that will flower last at the bottom of the pot and the earliest flowering bulbs at the top to keep the display going for as long as possible.

flax flowers and freshly harvested edible seeds

(Image credit: Krasowit / Shutterstock)

8. Divide perennials and collect seeds for more plants

Fall is a good time for dividing plants such as perennials, especially if they have grown big and messy by the end of summer. It's also the season to gather seeds. Be sure to add both of these to your fall gardening checklist.

'Mastering propagation techniques is one of the single most satisfying things you can do as a gardener,' says Frances Tophill, Gardeners' World presenter and author of The Modern Gardener. 'Not only can you fill your space with new plants for very little money, but you can be assured your plants are grown in the best way using sustainable methods and avoiding air miles.'

Simply dig up a clump and separate it by using two garden forks back to back to prise it apart. 'Alternatively use a garden spade or even a knife to cut the clump into pieces,' says Frances. 'Make sure there are roots and growing tips on each section you have broken off in order for new plants to grow.'

Frances suggests potting up the new clumps or planting them straight back into the border, where they should grow on happily. 'By regularly dividing plants you can go from having only one to having lots in just a matter of years.'

Saving your own seeds is another economical way to get more plants. Collect them when they're fully ripened for the best results. Pick them on a dry day, dry thoroughly, store them in a paper bag and make sure they're completely free from moisture.

planting a tree

(Image credit: Clare Seibel-Barnes / Alamy Stock Photo)

9. Rearrange your garden

If you're planning to move things around in your plot, fall is one of the best times to carry out any work.

If you're planning to relocate or plant new trees before the ground freezes, prepare the new hole at least twice as wide as the root ball, says Lindsey Chastain. 'Carefully remove the entire root system if possible when digging up the tree, then wrap the roots in burlap and move the tree quickly to its new home. Water deeply after planting and stake the trunk if necessary to help the tree establish roots before winter.'

All transplanted trees and shrubs do well if you mix a little bone meal with the soil in the planting hole. This is a natural fertilizer that encourages root growth. You might also want to use this time to look at some fall tree care for your more mature trees. 

If you're considering planting one of the best hedging plants this season, early to mid fall is the optimum time for planting new potted hedges, trees and shrubs.

It's also a good idea to try mulching around the base after you plant to add a protective layer. This can be bark chippings, coir or well-rotted compost. 

fall leaves

(Image credit: Deborah Vernon / Alamy Stock Photo)


How can I put fall leaves to good use?

One way to avoid bags of leaves and other cuttings building up in your garden is to invest in a shredder. This will not only reduce the volume of garden waste, it will also give you the option of composting, turning garden waste into natural fertilizer as part of a more sustainable approach. By finding out how to make leaf mold you can even turn autumn leaves into a real asset. Shredded material makes an excellent mulch for plants too.

So much of this fall gardening checklist is simple and free to do, plus if you work smartly by using your fallen leaves to make leaf mold, and harvesting seeds from your plants to grow in the spring, both you and your garden will be wealthier come the new year. 

Sarah Wilson

Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about flowers, plants, and garden design and trends since 2015. Having already studied introductory garden and landscape design as well as a course in floristry she is currently adding to her list of qualifications with an RHS Level 2 course in the Principles of Plant Growth and Development. In addition to homesandgardens.com and livingetc.com she's written for gardeningetc.com, Modern Gardens and Country Homes & Interiors magazines.