As fall approaches, days shorten and temperatures drop, it’s time for sweaters, fire pits, and pre-winter chores. Fall can be a busy season because you’re preparing your lawn, garden, and home for the approaching cold. As you harvest the last of your garden and give that lawn one last grooming, it’s also time to perform maintenance on both the exterior and interior of your home to ready it for the ravages of winter.
Many people have more time on their hands at home because of coronavirus, so this may be the perfect opportunity to start a to-do list and knock off some of those must-accomplish fall chores. Follow these tips for a successful lawn, garden, and home care and maintenance in preparation for that first frost and beyond.
The beginning of autumn in many parts of the country spells the time for seasonal transition, moving our entertainment and lifestyle more indoors. Now’s the time for homeowners to store outdoor furniture and other gear for the winter, deflate and store any pool toys, move plants indoors, and prep, maintain, and repair in anticipation of cooler temperatures.
It’s time to book service appointments before you need your fireplace or heater to make sure everything is in good working order. In addition to professional servicing, we have some easy maintenance tips you can do yourself to make sure you’re getting your yard, garden, and home ready for winter.
In the garden, there may still be much to harvest. Pick the last of the berries, tomatoes, corn, carrots, beets, and pumpkins. You can create great canning or preserving projects for the fall and winter months, bringing a delicious, just-picked taste to your winter table.
Some states start experiencing their first frost dates in early October, so these homeowners will want to use September to begin their annual frost, wind, rainstorm, and winter protection tasks. Before the weather gets too cold, schedule time to clean and repair gutters, along with any needed roof repairs, chimney, or siding maintenance or fixes. We’ll walk you through some of the most important tasks to spend time on during the next month or two.
Why Get Your Home Ready for Fall and Winter?
Why bother spending all the time and expense of working on your home and yard during the fall? Spending a little time and effort now can save you from surprises, like burst pipes and fallen, ice-filled gutters. Some steps taken now can save money in repairs later, during a more inconvenient time.
If you need professional services for your home or property, now is a great time to schedule them. Consider booking a tune-up of your furnace system now, before servicemen are overloaded with appointments for repair as the cold weather challenges heating systems. You’ll be warm and toasty, thankful you didn’t procrastinate.
Winter-Prep Tasks You’ll Need to Do This Fall
Getting your property ready for winter may seem daunting at first, but you can break down the tasks into manageable chunks of time and effort. You won’t have to accomplish them all in one weekend. Many homeowners prefer to start prep work outside and then move to the home’s interior projects as temperatures dip.
If your seasonal fall brings lots of fallen leaves, use them to your advantage. Depending on how many leaves are blanketing your yard, rake them up and dump them in a yard waste bin or add them to your compost pile. You can even work leaves into the garden soil or your yard, which will add critical nutrients for future benefit. If you have a lawnmower, you can mow over the leaves of your lawn with the mulching attachment engaged, mincing the leaves so they can be left on the lawn as organic fertilizer. Make sure, however, that you don’t leave wet, soggy piles of whole leaves on the lawn —this can suffocate growth and contribute to an unhealthy lawn. Regularly removing the leaves as they fall can be the best way to stay on top of this sometimes time-consuming annual task.
Trim Branches, Plants, and Shrubs
Take the time to prune back shrubs and plants, according to the recommendations for each species. Take a look at the trees on your property. Do branches or shrubs hang over or touch the roof, gutter, soffits, or sides of your house? You’ll want to trim those back, so winds won’t cause the branches to rub against roofing shingles or siding or break a window in higher winds. This action will also keep critters like squirrels, rats, and raccoons from using your roof as a playground and potentially finding or making holes into your attic.
Depending on your climate and your grass type, you may need to continue watering your lawn through the fall season. Cool-season grasses, which tend to grow in regions of cooler or wetter fall weather, may require you to keep sprinklers running longer. Warm-season grasses go dormant in the winter, so they may not need additional irrigation throughout the fall and winter months. If you’re finished watering your lawn until the spring, be sure to winterize your sprinkler system and outdoor faucets in preparation for freezes so you don’t have burst pipes and other issues.
Knowing your grass type will help you plan for fall maintenance of your lawn. While there are many varieties of turf or lawn grass, there are generally two types of lawns for the yard: warm-season grass and cool-season grass. Which type you have is usually dependent upon where you live.
Warm-season grasses include Bermuda, Zoysia, Buffalo grass, and Bahia. This grass type is most often found in warmer climates like the south and has a peak growing season from spring to fall; it can turn brown during the winter months but thrives in the hot heat of the summer.
Cool-season grasses include bluegrasses, fescues, and ryegrasses and grow well in regions with cold winters and warm summers. They can stay green nearly all year. In periods of drought, these grasses need to be watered, or else they will enter a dormant period and turn brown.
Aerate and Overseed Lawn
Cool-season lawns should be aerated and overseeded in the fall. A core aerator removes small “plugs” of grass and soil and helps lawns receive more oxygen, sunlight, seed, and fertilization. After aerating a cool-season lawn it’s a great time to overseed the area and add the fall fertilization. Warm-season lawns tend to be aerated in the summer, not the fall.
Fertilize and Feed Your Lawn
Fall is a great season to feed your cool-season lawn, but warm-season grasses are going dormant and won’t require fertilization until the spring. Cool-season grasses use the fall months to recover from the heat and growth of the summer and may need a good dose of nitrogen. The exact fertilization requirements should be determined by conducting a soil test to see what nutrients the soil is lacking. Making sure your lawn has what it needs to stay healthy and weed-free is important, especially if you desire a nice green lawn next spring and summer.
Mow and Edge
Cool-season grasses are still growing in the fall months but probably won’t require as much mowing or edging compared to the summer months. Your cool-season lawn may just need mowing once every couple of weeks during fall. Warm-season lawns become dormant in the fall and winter months and stop growing so they won’t require mowing or edging. So, you can look forward to winterizing your lawnmower and edger and then taking a break from mowing until spring.
Weed and Pest Control
Cool and warm season grasses usually don’t require traditional weed or pest control in the fall months. However, cool-season grasses are sometimes susceptible to moss, so fall may be a good time of year to apply moss killer. This can also be done in the spring.
Prepare your Flower Beds and Garden
Along with lawn care, you’ll want to prepare your flower beds and garden for winter. This will include cleaning out rotted, dead, and dying plants. You’ll also want to remove invasive weeds, helping ensure they won’t return in the spring and work on your compost pile. Tend to plants, especially delicate flowers like roses. Read how to winterize your roses here. Preparing your soil for spring, adding nutrients, and planting cover crops in your garden (if you choose) should also be on your to-do list. Prune perennials (plants that will survive winter) and divide and plant bulbs for the following spring. Make sure your hoses have been drained of water, too.
Don’t forget to mulch. Mulching helps retain moisture around plants, but it also protects your soil from erosion and keeps down weed growth. During fall and winter, mulch helps insulate the ground and roots from fast freezes and thawing. As a bonus, in the spring, mulch breaks down into organic material for natural fertilizer benefits.
Don’t forget to bring in container plants that have enjoyed your back deck, porch, or yard. Make sure they’re bug-free. Then, enjoy cheerful greenery during those gray, chilly winter days. Indoor plants not only help clean your indoor air, but they can also lift your mood while adding a peaceful, natural ambiance to your interior decor.
Repairs to Exterior of your Home
Take advantage of cooler, comfortable weather to maintain and repair the exterior of your home. Examine and repair wood or vinyl siding, and look for cracks in concrete, brick, and other exterior materials. Seal up holes in soffits and fascia. You may also need to do an exterior home cleaning with a pressure washer.
Examine and clean your roof and gutters. Inspect your roof to make sure it can withstand the weight of snow and ice if you’re in a colder climate. Replace any missing shingles, and make sure the flashing on your roof is in good shape. If flashing needs repairs, arrange that or, if you have skills in that area, tackle it yourself.
Take stock of your outdoor lighting and change bulbs if needed. It will be much easier to change bulbs now than when there’s ice or snow on the ground.
Make sure steps and porch handrails are in good working condition and sturdy since you may rely on them more during icy, snowy weather. Make repairs to walkways that may become hazardous with winter weather. If you have any vegetation blocking security camera views, trim those back.
If you live in a northern climate, check the insulation around your pipes before cold weather arrives. Exposed pipes in unheated spaces or near exterior walls can freeze and then burst, flooding your home. This can-do extensive damage to your house and requires significant time out of your home and expensive professional restoration. Making sure pipes are insulated can help prevent this. Foam pipe sleeves are easy to install, and you can also use pipe wrap. You can also add wall insulation, use faucet covers on your outdoor spigots, and insulate the space where pipes go through walls.
After you’ve addressed insulation for your pipes, take a look at the insulation under your home and in the attic. Adding or upgrading your insulation is another great way to ensure your home is operating efficiently this winter and can help reduce your monthly heating bills.
Make a List
Having a running list of fall-prep maintenance and repair tasks may help you keep on top of everything you need to accomplish during the weekends or when you have time available. For instance, your list may look like this:
- Lay mulch for winter frost prep
- Trim back flowering plants like lavender
- Prune trees and shrubs near your house
- Winterize lawn equipment
- Schedule home cleaning
- Project idea: Can or preserve garden edibles
- Repair exterior siding as necessary
- Prep and clean fireplace
- Check for air leaks in the attic and basement
- Clear roof and gutters from leaves
- Schedule maintenance or repairs from professionals
- Hire a heating service professional to assess your home’s potential heat loss
- Schedule a chimney sweep to inspect the fireplace and ensure safety
Inside Fall Maintenance
Don’t neglect the inside of your home when you’re prepping for fall and winter. Check and replace batteries (if applicable) of carbon monoxide alarms and smoke alarms and inspect your fire extinguishers to make sure they’re still viable. Make sure all family members know where fire extinguishers are kept.
Check for air leaks and potential heat loss within the home. Unwanted drafts can lead to a more expensive heating bill over the winter, so use these tips to get started.
- Locate air leaks: check for air drafts behind outlets, around windows and doors, and behind recessed lights. Other areas to check are your ventilation system and fireplace chimneys.
- Check attics and basements: these spaces are typical problem areas for energy loss. Inspect these areas for loss of air, insulation, or other issues like mold. Dirty insulation is often a sign of air leakage.
- Seal leaks: Properly sealing against air leaks will help your heating costs in check.
Schedule Air Conditioner or Heating Tuneup
Just as your air conditioner works hard during the summer, your heater labors during the colder months to keep you comfortable. Nip any future problems in the bud by scheduling a fall checkup for your heating system. Ask your repair professional to check for any air leaks and/or heat loss. Make any repairs needed now, and not in frigid temperatures later on when furnace repair professionals are in more demand.
Ready your Fireplace for Winter
Your fireplace should be a source of warmth and comfort, not a danger hazard. Unfortunately, every year thousands of people (including children) are seriously injured by fires. Some 14,000 house fires each year originate in the fireplace, so the more you know how to maintain your fireplace (and safely use it) the better. Fireplace safety tips include:
- Have your fireplace inspected each year by a professional, especially if your fireplace is wood burning
- Clear the area around the hearth and make sure it’s free of flammable materials
- Use only seasoned hardwood—softwood creates more creosote buildup
- Always use a screen around the fireplace to catch sparks
Do it Yourself or Hire a Pro?
Are you a do-it-yourselfer, or would it make more sense to hire a professional for some of the winter prep jobs? Consider the value of your time and the expertise of someone else. Are you working too many hours to can’t comfortably spend the time needed for the repair or maintenance? Do you have the tools? The skills? If not, maybe it’s time to call in the professionals for a job well done.
Prepare Now for Peace of Mind Later
As you snuggle up in front of your fireplace this winter, warm and cozy, you’ll be glad you spent some extra time preparing your home this fall. A little work this fall repairing and maintaining your yard and home will result in an abundance of peace of mind later. With preventive maintenance, you will have cut down on the chances of frantically searching for—and waiting for—an emergency furnace repairman or trying to find someone to fix your fallen gutters in freezing weather. Instead, you’ll enjoy your warm home and look forward to each season’s delights and challenges.
Originally posted on Porch.com