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Late summer means it's time for our cold-weather outdoor prep checklist

By: Mitch Mitchell
September 3, 2022

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but summer is going to be winding down soon. Although summer is officially here until  Thursday, September 22, summer temps will linger on for much longer in vast parts of the country. But those of us who live up north a bit are starting to think about the transition to autumn and all that entails.

Face it, it'll be getting darker sooner as evenings are gradually drawing in and bring a chill to the air. We're not looking to rush things, but winter is approaching. So what do homeowners who have outdoor space have to look forward to in autumn? Prepping for winter, of course, and all the chores that need to be done.

Late summer means it's time for our cold-weather outdoor prep checklist


Here's your lawn and garden checklist for Autumn 2022

☑️ Get digging: planting and transplanting

Early autumn is an optimal time for transplanting plants and shrubs because the soil has sufficient moisture thanks to more typical wettish weather. The earth is still warm from the long summer, which gives transplanted plants enough time to get used to their new home and form new roots before winter chills set in.

This is the last opportunity before a big freeze to bring a bit of color into your outside spaces and, believe it or not, it's actually an ideal planting time. Homeowners can also have a clear conscience when it comes to adding new plantings to their property in the autumn. Some plants prefer being planted this time of year. Roses, for example, love being introduced in autumn as long as it's before the first sign of ground frost.

☑️ Put bulbs to bed

Want a knockout spring bloom? Plant your bulbs in autumn. Bulbs planted today will impress with flowers germinating from the soil just in time to alleviate the toughest winter doldrums. Consider positioning carefully. Bulb placement is crucial if you want to make a big, colorful opening statement when spring arrives. While most flower bulbs prefer fresh, moist soil in springtime, the earth can be dry and porous in summer, which is the typical dormant period for many early bloomers. 

Remember, bulbs ought to be planted at a depth of two to three times their height. This will give them warmth over the winter, with less chance of being waterlogged if the weather is especially harsh. Head to a garden store to pick up a bulb planter to make it easier to dig a large and deep enough hole. Place flowering bulbs in the ground with their root area facing down and their tip facing upwards. Then cover them with soil and press down to help them stay safe and secure til winter's end. It can take a little trial and error to get bulb placement and planting just right, but after a season or two, you'll be a pro. 

☑️ Dead-leaf perennials, bushes and shrubs

When bushes and shrubbery start to go to seed, or if their stems and small branches start to bend towards the ground and go yellow, it's because the plants are now drawing their sap back to their roots for a long winter's rest. If the dead/dying segments are not cut back, they may decay, damaging the plant's overall health.

We're not talking about rejuvenation or renewal pruning here; that's a more drastic cutback usually reserved until early spring before new growth emerges. 

Here you're simply looking to take off the dead matter from the plants as they start to go dormant. This is sometimes called “dead leafing.” When done correctly, removing decaying plant debris decreases the likelihood of plant disease while also helping you keep a neat garden area that won't need much attention in the coming months. One thing to note: dead leafing is beneficial at both the end and the beginning of the growing season. Repeating the process in the spring is necessary to remove any damage caused by a long and cold winter.

☑️ Hedge haircuts

If you have hedges, lucky you. Hedges are beautiful, especially when used to border your property. But they take a lot of upkeep. Remember to prune hedges one last time in autumn to prevent decaying, particularly if you live in an area that accumulates the dampness and takes longer to dry out. 

Only trim hedges back as far as you can without creating any bare spots as these will not grow back over the winter, causing the hedge to have unsightly holes. After giving your hedges a haircut, remove any leaves and cut branches immediately. The debris from a trim could keep the hedge from getting enough fresh air and sun and cause parts of the plant to rot.

☑️ Leaves vs. lawns

Low temperatures, scarce sunshine and winter's overall wetness wreak havoc on a lawn. That's why grassy properties need plenty of pampering and TLC before the start of the winter season. When leaves fall from trees in autumn, they should be regularly raked up and cleared from your lawn. Leaves left lying will deprive your lawn of light, creating dry, brown patches and encouraging moss formation. 

Many naturalists don't think you should pick up the leaves, and we agree — if you're not trying to keep up a beautiful lawn. If your property is more natural, sure, let the leaves stay. Want healthy grass in the summer? Rake the leaves and place them around the base of trees and shrubs to keep them warm.

Mow your lawn for the last time around the start of November. Be careful not to cut the grass shorter than 2 inches: longer grass makes better use of the lower levels of sunlight common to most winter climates. Again, this will also help your lawn resist the onslaught of weeds and moss.

Using an autumn fertilizer is also recommended. Don't use the same lawn fertilizers you used in spring and summer. They contain a high amount of nitrogen and cause the lawn to grow faster — not something you want to encourage in winter. Autumn fertilizers usually have a low nitrogen content and loads of potassium which bolsters the grass and helps in its fight against frost. 


Want more? Tackle these other 5 jobs before the first frost:

  1. Garden beds, roses bushes and other plants which are sensitive to frost should be covered. Burlap is a typical solution, but some gardeners swear by using bubblewrap these days. 
  2. The bulbs of summer flowers — begonias, dahlias, gladiolas, cannas — should be dug up, cleaned of soil and cut back to just the bulb. Then box them and store them in a cool, dark, dry location such as a storage room or basement.
  3. Shelter potted plants in a garage or shed — or place them under a deck if you cant bring them indoors. 
  4. Remove all hoses and switch off all water connections so that pooled water cannot cause any damage.
  5. If you have a pond on your property, dismantle pumps and fountains and, if necessary, install an anti-ice pump.

Then, when winter comes, homeowners with property get some time off — unless you're worried about this, this or this.

black and white photo of Mitch Mitchell
Author: Mitch Mitchell

Mitch Mitchell is a freelance contributor to Movement's marketing department. He also writes about tech, online security, the digital education community, travel, and living with dogs. He’d like to live somewhere warm.