TIP: Guide to Fall Yard Care

Devoting a little extra time to cleaning up and maintaining your yard this fall will make all the difference next spring.

In the heat of summer, blades often go dormant and can’t absorb many of the nutrients found in fertilizer. And because cooler temperatures allow individual grass blades to absorb nutrients, now is the best time to aerate and fertilize.

Autumn is also the season to tackle fallen leaves, do a little end-of-season maintenance on mowers and string trimmers, and even start a compost pile—what better way to put those collected leaves to good use?

If that sounds like a lofty list of chores, remember that you’ll reap the rewards next year, when your neighbors are trying in vain to bring life back to their lawns. The advice below, divided by task, will help you minimize back-bending labor and maximize enjoyment of your yard, year after year. Here are the five steps Consumer Reports’ experts recommend for tackling fall yard care.

1. Deal With Your Leaves: The first step to dealing with leaves? Deciding whether you even need to collect them at all. There are environmental benefits to letting them lie where they fall. But of course, some folks find that unsightly or would rather put them to use in a compost pile or as mulch around trees. A rake will work fine for clearing, but a leaf blower is much faster, and you can use one for sweeping porches and walkways, too.

2. Tend to Your Grass: Most grass varieties continue to grow when average soil temperature remains above 55 degrees. You’ll need to continue cutting with a lawn mower or tractor, albeit less frequently than you do during the prime growing months in late spring. Apply fertilizer and aerate now, and if you don’t plan to collect your leaves, consider using a mulching kit with your mower. (Churning fallen leaves into fine mulch helps the soil absorb their nutrients and helps reduce the quantity of fertilizer you’ll need to use.)

3. Take Care of Your Trees: Autumn is the best time to prune and transplant most trees and shrubs. Trying to do it in spring or summer can shock them, right when they’re budding or blooming. The time is also right to trim back or lop off dead or dangling branches, since hurricane season is immediately followed by winter storms in much of the country, and any storm can cause a dead limb to fall on your property. Loppers will suffice for small jobs, but only a chain saw will work for larger limbs.

4. Store Your Mower and Other Yard Gear: If you loathe caring for your lawn, one silver lining is that fall coincides with the end of mowing, string trimming, and hedge clipping for much of the country. But unless you plan on moving south, you need to give those tools some TLC so they’ll start easily next season. Take the time to store them properly, and mark your calendar to remember to show them a little love over the winter.

5. Get Ready for Snow: Live in an area with heavy snowfall most winters? It’s not too early to think about how you’ll clear it. If you’ve got a small walkway, a good shovel will suffice, but you’ll want a snow blower if you have a long driveway or a detached garage more than a few feet from the house. If you own a snow blower, make sure it starts. If you don’t, consider buying one before everyone else rushes to the home center before the first winter storm.