Fall Yard Cleanup: 8 Shortcuts for Easy Care

Overhead shot of raking fall leaves | fall yard clean upImage: KenFukunaga/Pixabay

It’s amazing what perennials, mulch, and decorative rocks can do.

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This article was contributed by Sarah Fogle, a DIYer, self-professed power tool addict, and home renovation blogger, who writes “The Ugly Duckling House.”

When you’re looking for your dream home, you might find that it comes with more yard than you’ve ever had before — or had to maintain. These tips will help you set up (and enjoy) an easy-care yard year-round.

#1 Design for Perennials with Different Blooming Seasons

Close up of a pink flowerImage: Ugly Duckling House

Warmer-weather seasons seem to get all the landscape planning love, but the secret to a beautiful yard is to plant for every season. Plant perennials rather than annuals to ensure that the plants will come back year over year. Mix things up by interspersing your favorite spring and summer plants with perennials that are evergreen, change leaf color, or bloom in the off-season.

With the different bloom schedules, your yard will stay visually interesting without having to purchase and plant new flowers every season.

Colorful fall and winter options. Here are some interesting perennials to consider planting, depending on your hardiness zone:

  • Mums
  • Japanese maple
  • Camellia (pictured above)
  • Holly bush
  • Winterberry holly
  • Yellow and red dogwood
  • Hellebore
  • Some varieties of hydrangea
  • Beautyberry
  • Sumac
  • Russian sage

Related: The Best Choices for a Practically Hassle-Free Yard

#2 Pass on Grass

A field of clover offers a lawn alternative to grassImage: Boxy Colonial

Grass isn’t your only turf option — clover (above), moss, and other low-growing groundcovers are often insect- and deer-resistant and also don’t require much mowing. Some options may even creep or spread out as they establish roots, which will eventually fill in the available area.

Clover even keeps weeds at bay and stays green, unlike most grass lawns.

Turf Tip: When selecting an alternative to grass, be sure to check that they aren’t too aggressive, or you could have a higher-maintenance problem.

#3 Overseed Your Lawn

If you’re set on a grass lawn, you can still keep maintenance to a minimum by overseeding in the fall.

Weeds will fan out their root systems as the grass goes dormant in winter, so take a preemptive approach in mid-fall by cutting your grass down to about an inch high and rake up the clippings. Spread out new grass seed, water regularly, and add fertilizer once the new grass germinates.

The healthier and denser the lawn is before winter, the less of an opportunity for weeds to take over. That means less work (and mowing and edging!) you’ll need to do in spring.

Related: Season-by-Season Lawn Care Tips

#4 Add Mulch Beds Around Plants and Walkways

A bed of light and dark mulch with a stone path through itImage: Pretty Handy Girl

Mulch beds are an unsung hero of landscaping. Mulch is organic and adds nutrients to the soil as it breaks down, providing a great combination of benefits for very little labor. By adding a healthy layer of mulch to your beds in the fall, you’ll protect your plants’ vulnerable roots while smothering the root systems of weeds.

Money-Saving Tip: Avoid buying bags of mulch at big-box stores and instead find a local landscape supplier; you can buy larger quantities that are often priced for professional landscapers (and therefore at wholesale rates). When planting a mulch bed, it’s easy to underestimate the amount you’ll need, so it’s better to buy in bulk instead of by the package, which will likely save you a bundle in time and money!

Keep an Eye Out: As your mulch breaks down in future growing seasons, you may need to replenish your beds with fresh mulch. However, don’t overdo it; maintain a mulch thickness around three inches, and only add more if it’s getting thin. Roots, just like us, need oxygen to work. Burying them under a thick layer of mulch decreases their supply.

#5 Fill Tough Areas With Decorative Rock Beds

Gravel surrounding a mulched plant bedImage: Ugly Duckling House

An alternative to organic mulch beds is landscaping stones or crushed gravel. These options are great for areas that you wish to keep completely maintenance-free or have a tough time growing grass in, such as the area near an air-conditioning unit. A bed of stones on top of landscaping fabric is virtually worry-free, as the rock never needs watering and won’t break down in soil.

Stone Tip:Tinier pebble varieties, like pea gravel, may blow around in areas with high winds, which can wreak havoc on your lawn mower. To keep rocks from traveling into your grass, opt for larger stones, and add edging around the perimeter of rock beds.

#6 Automate Watering Schedules

Close up of a sprinkler in grassImage: Ugly Duckling House

Remembering to water plants is a tall order for those of us with busy schedules, so make it a little easier on yourself with a set-it-and-forget-it approach.

If you don’t have an underground sprinkler system already installed and aren’t willing to invest in one, an above-ground sprinkler setup attached to your outdoor faucet is a great substitute. Splitters can help by allowing you to also attach drip hoses, which are perfect for garden beds that require a different watering schedule.

Many manufacturers are adding smart features like timers to help you maintain watering schedules on the go or that use the local weather report to skip watering if it’s expected to rain.

#7 Grow Local Plants

Close up of a purple flowerImage: Ugly Duckling House

What flowers, shrubs, and trees are native to your area and growing zone? By planting native species and plants that are well-suited for your climate, you’ll use less fertilizer, water, pesticides, and ultimately spend less effort trying to keep your yard alive. (The hydrangeas pictured above grow well in my hardiness zone.)

Local varieties are often inexpensive at nurseries because they can be sourced more easily than specialty options. To find what grows best in your area, speak to your local nursery or look up your USDA Hardiness Zone online by ZIP code.

#8 Keep Track of Dates to Stop Pruning

Certain plants (especially blooming shrubs like hydrangeas) will begin to form buds for the next year’s growth just before going dormant for the winter. To ensure that your plants grow in nicely the following year, it’s important to note in your calendar when to to stop pruning, and resist the urge to trim plants back until they start to grow again in the spring. To stay on top of it, look up each plant online and keep seasonal reminders in your phone for easy alerts.

Related: 4 Simple Yard Tasks to Do in Fall For an Awesome Lawn Come Spring

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