Fall is a great time to work in your yard, but it’s important to know what projects to tackle and avoid as cold weather approaches.
Topics covered include:
- Dividing and transplanting hostas and other plants.
- How to plant azaleas and other shrubs.
- What to prune and not to prune.
- How to plant tulips and other flower bulbs.
- Whether to fertilize your lawn in fall.
- How to winterize your lawn mower.
- Cleaning and sharpening gardening hand tools.
Read episode article to find out more.
- Fall Lawn Care Guide (article)
- Fall Lawn & Garden Maintenance (article)
- How to Plant a Fall Vegetable Garden (article)
Danny Lipford: This week on Today’s Homeowner we’re getting your lawn and gardens ready for cooler weather with a special fall “Around the Yard” episode. There’s lots to learn and lots to do, so stick around.
Julie Day Jones: All right. Job well done.
Danny Lipford: Spring is the time of the year where most people start thinking about getting out in their yard and really making it look great. But there’s a number of things that you can do during the fall of the year that will ensure that your yard looks great when the weather starts warming up. So this is one of our special “Around the Yard” episodes where we bring in Julie Day Jones, our lawn and garden editor from todayshomeowner.com, to share with you a few of these tips. And we’re introducing her to another garden enthusiast, my friend and neighbor, Storey Walters.
Storey Walters: I always say my yard is on steroids cause it’s, like, everything grows.
Julie Day Jones: Everything takes off.
Storey Walters: Way too much.
Julie Day Jones: Right.
Storey Walters: Back here I’ve got some hostas.
Julie Day Jones: Those are very easy to divide. Yeah, these would be some good ones for us to experiment with. You know, some plants, you can tell when they need to be divided because they’ll get almost like a donut shape, like the middle will empty out.
Storey Walters: Like day lilies.
Julie Day Jones: Sure. That one is not quite there yet, but you can that it’s more spread out than the others.
Storey Walters: It looks a little sickly.
Julie Day Jones: Yeah. So I think if we divide that one up, he’ll probably be really good and healthy by spring.
Storey Walters: See, this right here, these are ginger lilies. You pull them up…
Julie Day Jones: Oh, wow. You just pulled one up.
Storey Walters: Divide something, even if you got another little section of that and planted it in the ground, next year it would make one of these. So they’ll start little, but they get bigger. When they would all start to die back in the winter, I was like, cutting, cutting and a friend of mine down the street, Monica, she goes, “Storey, just lay them all down. Cover it with pine straw, and they’ll all come back fine, anyway.”
Julie Day Jones: Instant compost.
Storey Walters: I was like, “That’s so much easier than hauling it away.” Well, I have plants in my yard. I have gerber daisies that my mother gave me when my son was born. And she passed away a long time ago, but he is 27 now.
Julie Day Jones: And you were telling me earlier that your daughter has a new house. that needs help in the yard.
Storey Walters: Right. They just purchased a house not far, and so if I can help her with starting babies here or transplanting or digging up stuff and dividing it she can start her own little thing there and save them some money. I’m hoping I can do that with all my children.
Danny Lipford: So after getting to know the yard and each other, they get to work.
Julie Day Jones: Hostas are fun to divide because they kind of show you where to do it. You can see here that this will just pull off.
Storey Walters: And if you wanted to, this could be, like, six more.
Julie Day Jones: Sure.
Storey Walters: If you were a really patient person.
Julie Day Jones: If you want all the little babies. And you know sometimes when it’s really tight, I like to get just an old knife, and you can even cut it if it’s so matted that you can’t really tell where it would normally divide. That will help it.
Storey Walters: That’s probably a good idea.
Julie Day Jones: Just to kind of slice through and take one of them off. But sometimes you just can’t do it without breaking or cutting.
Storey Walters: And you almost feel like you’re hurting the plant, because you like saw through big major root things. But you know what, it’s kind of like when you take a plant out of the pot if you scar up the roots in the pot, like if it’s root-bound, it makes the plant kind of spread into the ground easier.
Julie Day Jones: Sure.
Storey Walters: And how do you just go in?
Julie Day Jones: Kind of in between two of the clumps. You get two crowns. You want to make sure…
Storey Walters: Sorry, I didn’t do that real well.
Julie Day Jones: Yeah, it’s fine. You just want to make sure that every plant has a crown, which is this little part here where it all comes out of the ground, so that you’re planting crowns. If you end up getting just a little leaf, that’s not going to grow.
Storey Walters: Right. Okay.
Julie Day Jones: I like to put a little bone meal or phosphorus in the hole. You can kind of see it on the bag here, the middle number is phosphorus, which tends to help with roots and root growth.
Storey Walters: Okay. Instead of promoting top growth right now.
Julie Day Jones: Right. And this is an organic bone meal, so putting a handful of this in the hole certainly can’t hurt. But after you divide something, sometimes it needs a little TLC to help those roots get going.
Storey Walters: Okay. Well, thank you.
Julie Day Jones: All right. Job well done.
Danny Lipford: Julie, I’ll have to admit, that was a pretty cool trick dividing one plant into five.
Julie Day Jones: It’s true. It’s a good way to save money, fill up your yard, even have a few to give to friends.
Danny Lipford: That’s true. Well, now, while you guys were over there doing that, I thought that I would trim a few of Storey’s limbs here. You see all kinds, a few dead ones here and there. I don’t know why I get a lot of satisfaction out of that.
Julie Day Jones: It’s okay to trim up your hedges, just neaten things up a little bit. But, you know, when you trim things back a lot it causes them to sprout.
Danny Lipford: I see.
Julie Day Jones: And you’ve got another month or two of warm weather. If you get things to sprout and then a cold front moves in, it could really hurt that plant.
Danny Lipford: Absolutely.
Julie Day Jones: So I’d hold off on that until winter, maybe early spring and then do your heavy pruning.
Danny Lipford: So you have me a little paranoid now. So there’s some place in between there in terms of how much that you can trim. Am I safe with this one?
Julie Day Jones: You are. That’s a good dead one. I’d cut that one off.
Danny Lipford: Okay.
Joe Truini: You might not have thought you’d ever get around to using the high school geometry, but if you’ve ever had to lay out lines at a perfectly square, 90-degree corner, here’s a chance to use it. If it’s a large project like this, where we’re extending the patio, a framing square would be too small, it wouldn’t be accurate enough. So we’re going to use the Pythagorean theorem and that’s based on a three, four, five ratio.
So along one line, I measured a mark three feet, and along the intersecting line I did the same thing, only at four feet. And now, to put the theorem into practice, you simply measure across the two lines and you move the stake, in or out, until the five-foot mark lines up exactly with the mark that you made on the line. Then you can drive in the stake. And it won’t be perfectly in line the first time, but you can move the stake in or out, side to side, as you need to.
And this works—here I did it three feet, four feet, five feet. But you can use any of those ratios, so it could be six, eight or 10. The larger the project, the larger the numbers, the more accurate it’ll be.
Danny Lipford: This week we’re looking at a number of things that you can do out in your yard during the fall of the year that’ll make your yard look great come springtime. But one of the things you probably wouldn’t think about is maybe doing a little planting. Julie, why is this a great time to do some planting?
Julie Day Jones: Fall is an excellent time to plant stuff, especially if you have a little bit more warm weather left. Everything will settle in, roots will grow. Everything will go dormant for the winter and by spring it’ll just be ready to grow.
Danny Lipford: What’s the… I don’t understand. It’s kind of a little…
Julie Day Jones: Isn’t this pretty?
Danny Lipford: …mound in the bottom of it here. I don’t get it.
Julie Day Jones: I know, well, it’s sort of just like an insurance policy. I know a lot of people, especially people with green thumbs, can dig a hole, stick it in the ground and it’s happy.
Danny Lipford: I know it.
Julie Day Jones: I like to spend just a little extra time because when you do that, it saves you a little bit of work later.
Danny Lipford: I get you.
Julie Day Jones: For instance, this azalea likes to be about one inch above the soil line when you plant it.
Danny Lipford: Hmm.
Julie Day Jones: So to keep it from sinking, we just dug down to right here, left that nice and compacted, so the plant can sit on that little mound. But then we loosened up the dirt around it deeper, so the roots have a place to go, instead of digging out the middle.
Danny Lipford: Is there a general rule of thumb on how much larger that hole should be than the actual plant?
Julie Day Jones: I say three times as wide and at least as deep.
Danny Lipford: Okay.
Julie Day Jones: And if you take the time to make this little mound, then, later, you don’t have to worry about when you water it the thing sinking and being too low. It keeps it up at the right height.
Danny Lipford: Here, I can help you finish it up. What’s next?
Julie Day Jones: That sounds good. Well, let’s put this plant in the ground. We’ve got the nice hole ready for it. We’re just going to gently pull it out of the pot. It’s got good roots. Doesn’t look like it’s root-bound.
Danny Lipford: And I guess when you position something you need to be conscious of if it’s full in one direction or the other in terms of how it will be viewed.
Julie Day Jones: You do. You want it to look good when you plant it.
Danny Lipford: See, I’m catching on to this.
Julie Day Jones: Let’s turn this a little bit. This side is nice and full. We’ll have it facing out.
Danny Lipford: And that’s deep enough, huh?
Julie Day Jones: Yeah. Plenty deep. I’ve got some soil conditioner here that’s going to just improve the soil some around it.
Danny Lipford: So you what, just kind of sprinkle that along with it?
Julie Day Jones: Yeah, not too much. We want this plant to grow out into the roots out into the yard.
Danny Lipford: I get you.
Julie Day Jones: So we don’t need to put too much right here around it. But just a little bit, since it’s fall and winter’s coming. And, really, with this stuff just about a shovel full or two per plant is all you need.
Danny Lipford: Oh, really? I get you.
Julie Day Jones: It just helps keep it from getting too compacted.
Danny Lipford: I think even I can finish this simple little task because I know you have something you’re going to help Storey with.
Julie Day Jones: Okay. So let’s plant some of these bulbs. Do you have a spot picked out?
Storey Walters: I think it’d be really nice to have some color right over here.
Julie Day Jones: I like that.
Storey Walters: Especially in the early spring.
Julie Day Jones: The most important thing with bulbs is you want to get them at the right depth and you want to space them correctly. And, of course, if they take full sun you’ve got to pick the right spot to begin with. But tulips—let’s see—the package says five inches, some varieties of tulips I think like to be deeper. We actually have an article on the website that has a good chart of what depth to plant what bulbs.
The fun thing about spring bulbs is you can come out here in the fall and just… You can buy them by the bag. They’re really economical. You can pack them into spaces and then you cover them up and just wait for spring.
Storey Walters: And then it’s like a surprise.
Julie Day Jones: Then it’s like a surprise. This is a little mini-auger that attaches to a drill.
Storey Walters: Whoo!
Julie Day Jones: Let’s check the depth. Yeah. About five to six inches deep, that’s pretty good. Yeah, we can just drop one down in there.
Storey Walters: There you go.
Julie Day Jones: There’s one. Right here in the fall, you can plant some of these in a pot and stick it in your fridge, pull it out…
Storey Walters: Oh, put the whole pot in your refrigerator?
Julie Day Jones: Put the pot in the fridge and pull it out like in November. Put it in a window.
Storey Walters: It’ll bloom in your house?
Julie Day Jones: Yeah, right around the holidays.
Storey Walters: Oh, I like that.
Julie Day Jones: So if you’re thinking ahead to Christmas gifts, pot some of these up and get them in your fridge.
Storey Walters: That’s a good idea. I like to try and do pots of herbs and stuff like that.
Julie Day Jones: Yeah.
Storey Walters: Random gardening.
Julie Day Jones: Bulbs are really best naturalized. If you put ’em in a straight line or in too much of a shape they look a little forced. They’re really better when you give them a chance to spread out and take their own irregular shapes. But, you know, where I live in North Carolina, a lot of bulbs… These bulbs do great but some of the other ones will freeze in the winter. You have to dig them up and store them someplace warm.
Storey Walters: You have to dig up caladiums, right?
Julie Day Jones: Right. We either have to dig them up or we have to replant them fresh every year. Because they don’t handle the cold and snow very well. That looks pretty good. So it doesn’t look like we did anything. But in the spring you’re going to have a really nice surprise out here.
Storey Walters: I’ll have to give you a call.
Julie Day Jones: I want to see pictures.
Storey Walters: Okay.
Julie Day Jones: It looks good.
Jodi Marks: Now, you know, I love being outdoors, working on the lawn or in my garden. But there is a tool that frustrates me every time, and that’s pruning my trees. Because I’ve got my set of loppers, I’m going around, and I try to get a really thick branch, so that I can cut it off. And I actually get my loppers caught in the branch. Then I’ve got to go and get something like a pruning saw so I’m dragging around a couple of tools just to do one little project—until now.
Take a look at this. These are a set of loppers by Fiskars. Now, this is an anvil cut. And look how this works. With this hand stationary, I’m going to move the handle this way, and see that ratchet action I get? And I can cut that branch in no time—up to two inches thick.
So think about it. Now it’s going to save time, it’s going to save energy, and I can cut larger branches. You know what? I think pruning may become my favorite outdoor activity.
Danny Lipford: This week we’re getting the yard ready for fall. Julie Day Jones and my neighbor, Storey Walters, have been prepping the gardens.
Storey Walters: Back here I’ve got some hostas.
Julie Day Jones: Those are very easy to divide.
Danny Lipford: Now they’ve moved on to the lawn. Okay, so what are you guys attacking now? Are we fertilizing a little bit?
Julie Day Jones: Well, we’re actually doing a little bit of lawn fungus control.
Danny Lipford: Oh. Well, how do you know it’s fungus?
Storey Walters: It’s definitely thinner than the rest of the grass. It gets a yellow tinge to it. You can kind of pull on it and it’ll come out easily. And it just invites weeds so… I got this from a guy at the nursery and he said, “Let’s put that on now “and definitely don’t fertilize it ’cause it’ll feed fungus, too.” So, hoping we can get a handle on it so it’ll have a nice fall grass.
Danny Lipford: Now, what about fertilizers? You talked about fertilizing. When do you fertilize? Everybody says, “You got to do it in spring, got to do it in the fall…” When do you really fertilize to get the best kind of lawn?
Julie Day Jones: Well, I think a lot of times you get those conflicting views because people are growing different kinds of grass. I live in North Carolina and from there and farther north states, we have cool-season grasses like fescue, particularly, that fall is prime time to feed it. They start growing in the fall. That’s when you plant it, that’s when you fertilize it, that’s when everybody gets out and does their yard work.
But father down south where it’s warmer, you have warm-season grasses. Like, this is St. Augustine. Sometimes it’ll even go dormant here over the winter. You don’t want to feed it too much in the fall because you don’t want to feed it and then freeze it. If you have snow or cold weather, so a lot of times you’ll do that in spring.
Danny Lipford: Yeah. And what about aeration? We see people around here all the time, they’ll rent an aerator and then they’ll just tear their yard up.
Storey Walters: And their sprinkler systems.
Danny Lipford: Yeah. So, again, when should you aerate?
Julie Day Jones: You can do that about any time. Fall is a great time. Spring is also a good time. I like to do it in the fall because you can put down things like your lime, your compost. If you’re trying to amend your soil to get the nutrients in balance, put them down in the fall, let them sit and decompose over the winter and then, come spring, it’s ready to grow.
Danny Lipford: I got you. Hmm. Well, you guys have been doing so much work, the least I can do is open up the bag, pour it in the spreader. As the weather cools down, your mowing chores will slow down. So this is a good time to think about getting your mower ready for a long winter nap.
Allen Lyle: When it comes to lawnmower maintenance, there are two sides to this coin. Heads, take care of that lawnmower at the end of the season. Tails, take care of the lawnmower at the very beginning of the season. Now, both camps have valid arguments, but I’m going to commit, I’m going to tell you what I think. End of the season. The reason why is that you’re also winterizing your mower, protecting it, of course, through those harsh winter months. And let’s face it. At the beginning of the season, I don’t want to take all the time to do maintenance on it, I want to put gasoline in and go.
So easy to do. Let’s start with gasoline since we brought that up. You want to make sure the tank is empty. The best way to do this, particularly with a mower like this, is just to make sure you’re doing this at the end of your last cut. Run it out of gas. I don’t like the fact that some people say, “Take the cap off, tip it over, drain it out.” You can spill it all over the place. That’s not good. Just run it out till it’s out of gas. Let it cool down.
Then the very first thing, come over here and pull the plug, or the wire, off the spark plug. This is just a safety precaution. First of all, I like to clean it off. That means cleaning off the front deck, clean all the grass and dirt off of it, but don’t forget about the underside. You want to tilt that up, get a garden hose and spray all the underneath. You want any built-up grass off of there.
Once you’ve got that done, go ahead and pull the blade off there. You want to take this to a professional or sharpen it yourself. Personally, I like using a bench grinder. It’s not that it’s better, it’s just that I’m more comfortable with it. Sharpen the blade. Put it back on.
You want to drain the oil out. Go ahead and drain the oil. Don’t drain it in the ground. Drain it into a container and have it disposed of properly.
Once that’s done, you want to clean or replace your air filter. Since you’ve got the wire off of your spark plug, go ahead and pull the spark plug out and change it as well.
Then, you want to fill it back up with fresh oil, put the cap on everything, keep the plug wire off. You’re ready to store it.
Danny Lipford: In addition to winterizing your power tools, you also need to pay a little attention to your hand tools. And rust, that’s really the enemy, isn’t it?
Julie Day Jones: Especially if you’re like me and tend to leave them out in the rain.
Danny Lipford: Yeah. Like this one right there. Somebody left this one out in the rain.
Julie Day Jones: That one could use a little TLC, I think.
Danny Lipford: Absolutely. Well, first thing, attacking that rust. If you use a wire brush, you can get a lot of that rust off of there. That’s the first step when you have an acute problem like this one. And then steel wool can really polish it up very nicely.
Julie Day Jones: That’s already looking better.
Danny Lipford: Already looking better. And then you can wipe it down and lubricate it with lubricating oil, is always a good idea. And work that in there real well. But you’ve got a little trick about these wooden handles, which is a real vulnerable part of any hand tool. Don’t you think?
Julie Day Jones: It sure is. They’ll get brittle. One day you’re going to be out there working and it’s just going to snap. Take a little bit of sandpaper. Go over them lightly. Just take the splinters out. You don’t have to do a lot of work on it. But get it nice and smooth and then put some linseed oil—a light coat—let it soak in. I’d go ahead and put a second coat and let that soak in. And while you’re at it, oil those blades. Get everything nice and lubricated for the winter.
Danny Lipford: Shovels are something that seem like they’re always so dull and people using a bench grinder to try to put an edge on that. That can be a little dangerous.
Julie Day Jones: Something like this file would be perfect.
Danny Lipford: This works great. I’ve used these a lot. And just paying a lot of attention, and just you’ll see it basically getting sharp right in front of your eyes. And just work it around just like this. All of these kind of things, though, it really didn’t take that long to get all of the hand tools. But it’ll be a lot better come spring, huh?
Julie Day Jones: Sure, especially if they sit in your garage all winter the rust is going to get worse. When spring comes you’re going to want to grab them and go.
Danny Lipford: Steven wants to know, “How do I clean algae off my roof?”
Even with a fairly new roof like this, it won’t be long before the dark algae stains start making it look really bad. And it’s only going to get worse as it gets older. But here’s what you can do to clean it up a little bit.
Use some oxygen-based cleaner, usually in a powder form, mix it in a five-gallon bucket with water. Make sure you check the manufacturers’ instruction on exactly how much to use. Then, lightly wet down your roof, then use a stiff bristle brush to apply the cleaner. Allow it to sit there for about 15 minutes and do the work for you, then blast it off with a garden hose. And your roof is going to look a lot better for a lot longer.
But if your roof is this steep I would recommend you rely on a professional roof cleaner who’s used to this type of situation.
Danny Lipford: Boy, Julie, you and Storey got a lot things accomplished over the last couple of days. Julie Day Jones: We sure did. I love working with fellow gardeners. I always learn something.
Danny Lipford: Yeah, she’s a great garden enthusiast and she works really hard out the garden.
Julie Day Jones: She really does.
Danny Lipford: Hey, I hope we were able to share with you a few tips that you can use around your house.
Julie Day Jones: That’s right. We’ve got hundreds of articles on all sorts of topics, including most of what we covered today, so be sure to check it out.
Danny Lipford: Hey, thanks for being with us this week and join us next week right here.