Fall is a season of highs and lows—climbing a ladder to clean out a gutter, or digging in a garden to prepare it for spring. And the highs and lows of a fall or an injury can be debilitating. Still, doing what you can in the yard and around the home is excellent exercise.

The questions become what needs to be done, and how can these tasks be accomplished safely and effectively?

Fall Yard Work Checklist

When composing a lawn care checklist, be realistic about the time and effort required. Don’t try to do everything in a weekend if there is just too much to do. Pace yourself.

Depending upon your home, garden and lawn, here are some items to consider:

Check and clean the gutters. This is a task you might ask a younger family member to perform or hire someone to prevent an injury due to a fall.

Mulch leaves. Fallen leaves contain rich nutrients your lawn and garden can use. Mow your yard without the grass catching attachment to shred the leaves into your lawn.

Apply mulch. Mulch around plants will help your plants and trees through the winter. Remember to never mulch all the way up to a tree trunk—that can cause rot.

Feed the lawn. Fertilizing your lawn in the fall will contribute to its health and appearance next spring. Look for an easy-to-apply, nutrient-rich food that helps your lawn build strong roots and recover from the summer months. Depending on your part of the country and the type of grass you have, the correct fertilizer for your lawn may vary. However, almost all zones and lawn types benefit from a fertilizer rich in nitrogen and phosphorus.

Aerate. Aerating is the process of puncturing the soil to create open pockets so that air, water, and nutrients find their way to feed the roots of grass. Fall or early spring are the best times to add aeration to your lawn care checklist.

There are two basic types of aerators. One version slits the soil in place, while the other removes a small plug of soil.

You can use a pitchfork or rent an aerator, but if you have a large yard, a professional service might be advised.

Clean up the vegetable garden. After the harvest, pull out old vegetable plants, and remove debris. It would also be a good time to add a layer of compost to help your garden next spring.

Also, this year’s organic debris can become next year’s compost.

If you leave the debris in the garden, it provides a place for harmful fungi, and bacteria. On the flip side, garden debris offers shelter and insect food for birds, so you might leave a couple of areas a little messy to help the birds through the winter.

Some experts advise tilling or plowing the garden to expose insects and larvae to the surface, where they will be eaten by birds or killed by the winter cold. Turning the soil also helps control soil fungi and diseases, as well as aerate the soil and speed up the decomposition of organic material like shredded leaves.

Prune trees and shrubs. Remove diseased and dead branches. Also remove branches that have been damaged by storms as they are more susceptible to disease. Perform other pruning jobs during early spring or right after the plant blooms.

Remove fallen branches. These can become trip hazards during the fall and winter months.

For trimming trees and thicker limbs, consider calling in a professional, especially if branches are dangerously close to power lines. You might also consider contacting your city utility company, as major tree trimming may be their responsibility.

Remove diseased material. If any plants or shrubs were diseased during the summer, rake them up and discard the material. Don’t compost them as they could reinfect other plants.

Plant bulbs, shrubs, and fall annuals. A fun item on your end-of-year lawn care checklist is to nurture and enjoy seasonal plant life. Some shrubs, as well as the following bulbs, do best when planted in the fall:

  • Daffodils
  • Iris
  • Tulips
  • Lilies
  • Anemone
  • Crocus
  • Grape hyacinth

Cut back perennials. There is some debate about whether cutting back perennials should occur in the fall, or the following spring. The bottom line seems to be that it depends upon the perennial. You can read more in this guide to perennial maintenance.

Clean and sharpen tools. After a full season of keeping the yard looking beautiful, getting garden tools in shape for spring is a great item for your winter lawn care checklist. The process is made simple with these 5 simple and easy steps to clean and sharpen garden tools.

Winterize your lawn mower. Your lawn mower will sit idle for months during late fall and winter. If you don’t winterize the mower, you may find that the fuel system has been clogged by the old gasoline. Starved of a fuel supply, it will not start. Here’s what you can do:

  • Remove all fuel by either draining the gas tank or running it empty.
  • Or add a fuel conditioner and top off the gas tank to prevent any moisture from condensing in the tank. Once you have added the conditioner, run the engine for a minute or two to circulate the additive through the carburetor.
  • Next remove spark plugs and apply a small amount of oil in the cylinder. Start your engine to burn off oil as well as lubricate the pistons, rings, and cylinder walls.
  • Finally, wipe your lawn mower clean of all grass and debris and be sure to store it in a clean, dry area far away from any stove, furnace, water heater, or other appliance that uses a pilot light or that can create a spark.

Need Help?

This seems like a lot of work, so seniors should look for help if fall lawn and garden care becomes overwhelming.

The first, and the most fun, resource to consider is to have family and friends over for a fall workday/party.

Or, if more assistance and expertise is needed, perhaps a professional yard service might be a good idea.

Lawn care services can be large, franchised businesses with permanent locations and many vehicles, or they may be small operations with only one or two individuals doing business out of their homes. And the quality of service will vary as well. A few things to look for when considering a lawn care service:

  • How is their reputation? Look for online reviews.
  • How is their customer service? How hard is it to get a quote, modify a service or get specialty jobs done? Do they show up when they are supposed to?
  • Are they licensed and insured?
  • Do they belong to a professional or trade organization?
  • Look for a company with an office manager or owner/operator.
  • See if they will let you go without a contract for a trial period.

Discover more home care tips and seasonal activities on our Independent Living blog.