When fall rolls around, we usually have a lot on our minds.  Kids returning to school, Husker football, the upcoming holidays and the dropping temperatures.  However, many of us aren’t thinking about our lawns and landscaping as we see this as more of a spring and summer issue.  However, with the unusually hot and dry summer and the upcoming cold months, it’s very important that we make some considerations for our landscaping now so that when spring rolls around, they will be in the best possible shape.  It’s also important to note that there are plenty of projects that can still be completed during cooler months to make the outdoors more enjoyable to spend time in this fall.

“Autumn is a perfect time to plant trees and shrubs,” says Susan Fetters with Exterior Designs.  “You may be considering some new landscaping on your property.  This can be the first stage, planting a tree or two, and creating the landscape beds.  Trees and shrubs are the backbone of your landscape design, so plant the trees and shrubs now that you would like to see established.  Keep in mind these new plants will need to be watered regularly for a month during establishment or until it snows.  Planting bulbs now will brighten up those cloudy days at the first break of spring.  Mulch the beds so that in spring, the landscaping can be completed with additional shrubs and perennials and a topdressing of mulch for appearance.  Don’t forget to keep evergreens and lawns watered going into winter.  With a lack of winter moisture, supplemental watering of evergreens is helpful for their survival.”

“October is a month that offers many different tasks to be performed on your lawn and landscape,” Susan continues. “Remove all leaves and debris from your lawn.  If you wish, you can blow tree leaves into mulched landscape beds and vegetable gardens for compost.  Apply the last turf fertilizer of the season and spray for broadleaf weeds as this is the best time for control.  Also, for sanitation purposes, pull vegetable garden plant leaves and debris for yard waste disposal unless you are composting.

With intermittent frosts and winter quickly approaching, it’s time for ‘bed winterization’, as those of us in the landscape profession call it.  Bed winterization includes pulling annuals and cutting back perennials.  Leave those perennials you want to keep for winter interest, for example blooming grasses or re-seeding perennials such as coreopsis and columbines.  Winterization also includes bed clean-outs and mulching plants requiring winter protection like some roses, hydrangeas and plants in exposed areas.

Autumn is also an ideal time to consult with your landscape company to plan for spring installations.  This will enable you to think about what you want to see in your landscaping and reserve your time for the installation as schedules fill up rapidly because everyone wants to landscape first thing in the spring.  Your landscape contractor and county extension office are invaluable sources of information, so utilize them.”

Lawn work is also something to be considered this fall.  The workload of fall lawn work may be less frequent, but certainly not less time-consuming and much of it revolves around leaf clean-up.  In areas of town where large shade trees are prevalent, leaf clean-up can be a huge task. Raking up leaves and stuffing them into disposable bags for your trash hauler can take up an entire weekend and then you find that two days later, the lawn is full of leaves yet again.  If you work with a professional lawn service, they generally have equipment for quicker pick-up and trucks to haul the debris away.  Unless you really enjoy raking up leaves, ask yourself how valuable your time is when you are considering whether or not to hire a professional lawn service.

Sprinkler systems are another area of your landscape that needs attention this fall.  Howard Kucera with Nature’s Helper explains, “The hot, dry weather has been tough on lawns this summer.  Even for those who have sprinkler systems, keeping enough water on the lawns has been a challenge.  If you have been running your sprinklers and find that you still have brown areas, you may need your sprinkler heads adjusted or nozzles switched out to provide better coverage.  Many times, growing landscapes also interfere with water patterns and we can fix that by doing a minor redesign.  It’s important to get a good dose of water on your lawn and apply a good fall fertilizer to help with the root structure before freezing temps arrive.  Even if your lawn is dormant, it still needs food and water.”

If you have underground sprinklers, it’s important to have them properly maintained for the cold months.  “Professionally winterizing your underground sprinkler system increases the life of your system by ensuring that all water is removed from the pipes and sprinkler heads,” explains Howard.  “This prevents leaking or bursting pipes throughout the winter months.  Some people don’t see the important of winterizing.  They think, ‘I made it through last year without any major problems, why do it this year?’  Think of a garden hose.  If it freezes full of water, it doesn’t break, but it finds the weak spot and creates a bubble.  Then when it gets used again, water finds the weak spots and over time it starts to leak.  By winterizing your sprinklers each fall, you prevent freeze damage and weak spots from forming, which will extend the life of your sprinkler system.

October is the month we recommend winterizing sprinklers here in Omaha.  If we do get a cold snap where nighttime temps dip below 32 degrees before your sprinklers are winterized, make sure you protect your backflow device and the copper pipes that are above ground.  You can do this by wrapping them with old towels or blankets.  Then cover those wrappings with a plastic garbage bag or tarp to keep it dry.”

Whether you have sprinklers or not, this fall it is vital to make sure all of your plant material is thoroughly watered.  “We’ve had a bad drought and there is no moisture in the ground,” Matt Keiser with KM Landscaping points out. “We highly recommend you water all of your existing plant materials, including trees and shrubs.  This becomes even more important if your plant material is relatively new.  Because the ground is so dry, it tends to crack and separate which makes it easier for roots to freeze.  You should keep watering until the ground freezes and, if we experience another mild winter like the last one, you should keep watering all through the winter months.”

Outdoor living spaces have been gaining popularity over the past few years and fall is an ideal time to install new features to your outdoor living space or upgrade what you already have.  “Fall is the perfect time to install a fire pit so you can enjoy its light and warmth in these cooler autumn months,” says Susan Fetters with Exterior Designs.  “Decorative annual pots can be changed out now for the autumn look.  We like to use tall boxwoods in pots and leave them all year round and then decorate them for the holidays with lights.”

“Adding or replacing decks or patios is a great fall project,” Matt Keiser with KM Landscaping adds.  “Projects like this are not only a great return on investment, but they are also something that can be enjoyed during any season and provide more living space for the homeowner.”  Imagine being able to sit on your new deck with your family as you carve pumpkins, listen to the Husker game or just relax in the crisp evening air enjoying each other’s company.  If we experience a winter like last year’s, it’s likely you can spend quite a bit of time outdoors this year and you want to have a nice place to do so.  You might also want to consider a new grill, a retractable awning, quality outdoor furniture or even a hot tub to add to your outdoor enjoyment this year.

Replacing windows is also a good project for the fall months.  “Fall is a good time to replace windows because the weather is mild so you won’t have a lot of really hot or cold air coming into your house when there is a large opening with no windows in it,” explains Paul Vonderfecht with EnerLux Windows & Doors.  “Inefficient windows can cause homeowners to feel cold air further into the house and can make you uncomfortable and increase energy bills.  Replacing these windows is a great return on investment.  I recommend full frame window replacements because it provides a better seal and it does not decrease the size of the window.  An insert replacement window may not address hidden issues and you lose glass area to view out.”

Many outdoor landscaping projects can be large in scope, making it very important to choose a professional who not only provides great service and products, but who will also be there to stand behind the project once it’s finished.  “This is a large investment you’re making, so it’s vital you choose the best professional to do the work,” says Matt Keiser with KM Landscaping.  “You want to find a company that is in it for the long haul and will be there long after the project is finished in case problems arise or you have questions.  The key is to find someone who has a good set of values and is someone you can trust.  You also want to make sure they have a good team surrounding them who share the same values and are creative.  Getting referrals is absolutely key so you can check out the type of work they have done in the past and make sure they have a trustworthy track record.”

When finding landscaping companies to work with, ask your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers who they recommend.  It’s likely they have worked with someone who they either highly recommend (or would suggest you stay away from).  You can ask to see photos of their landscaping or see it in person to check the quality yourself.  Once you have narrowed down your choices to a few different companies, interview them personally.  See how well they answer your questions, how easy they are to talk with and if their ideas for your project are in line with your own.

Just because summer has come to an end and spring seems very far away, it does not mean that your outdoor areas should be neglected.  Your landscaping needs to be prepared for winter so that it will be in the best condition possible once the spring months finally do come.  This is also an ideal time to consider some outdoor projects that will help extend your enjoyment of your outdoor environment into the cooler months.  Remember to plan ahead and work with the proper professionals who can provide you with all the advice, work and follow-up that your project requires.