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The Essential Guide to Fall Cleanups

Stone House with Yard Covered in Yellow Leaves
By:Danielle Hanula| Last Updated:06/20/2023
Time to Read: 5 min
Project Overview
Time to Complete
7-10 days
Project Cost

The Complete Fall Yard Cleanup Guide

As summer wraps up, you may think you’ve been relieved of your lawn care duties until after winter. However, autumn is actually the ideal season to prepare your lawn for the chilly months ahead. Put in the time to clean up your yard this fall, and you’ll be greeted by a lush, green lawn come springtime.

What sort of TLC does your yard need now to look its best next year? Follow our fall yard cleanup checklist to learn everything you need to do.


8 Easy Fall Yardwork Tasks to Tackle Before Winter

1. Remove Any Debris

Organic waste like leaves and weeds can provide a haven for pests like mice and groundhogs. As your trees shed their foliage, you’ll want to rake regularly to remove dead leaves and other debris that will smother the grass and prevent growth. In addition to attracting critters to your yard, excessive debris can damage your yard’s drainage, resulting in problems once all the snow melts.

Here a few fall yard cleanup tips to help you keep your leaf piles under control:

How to Clean Up Leaves in Your Yard

  • Use a Tarp: Rake all your leaves onto a tarp for easier hauling to the curb or compost pile.
  • Rake into Rows: If you’re bagging your leaves, it’s better to rake them into rows instead of piles. The leaves can be separated into more manageable portions at the end of the row.
  • Use Leaves as Lawn Fertilizer: Before the snow starts to fall, you can run your lawn mower over the fallen leaves to shred them into tiny flakes. They will settle into the autumn grass and decompose into a natural fertilizer.

Not sure what to do with all that natural debris? Learn how to get rid of leaves in your yard.

2. Take Out Dead Shrubs and Trees

Now that summer has passed, have you noticed any shrubs in your yard that didn’t seem to grow the way you had hoped? Check for signs of life by scratching the bark at the base to see if there is any green underneath. If no green appears under the bark, it might be dead.

If the tree or bush is completely dead, it’s best to cut it down and dig it out before the ground freezes. But you don’t have to mourn for too long – fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs for maximum growth.

Fall Cleanup Tips for Dead Plants

  • Cut Your Tree During the Dormant Season: Once the leaves have fallen off during late fall and early winter, it is much easier for an arborist to handle. The hard ground during the colder season will help ensure other trees and shrubs stay in place.
  • Don’t Do It All in One Day: There’s no need to rush your fall yard cleanup. Just as seasons change slowly, you should also take it slow and avoid trying to clean everything up in one day.
  • Rent a Dumpster: Planning a full landscaping overhaul? Using a roll off dumpster to dispose of large branches, stumps, bushes and other bulky yard debris is a lot easier than hauling them to the dump yourself.

Starting a whole yard cleanup?

3. Don’t Stop Mowing Just Yet

Fall yardwork is all about helping your lawn finish strong so that it can withstand the bitter temperatures ahead. It’s important to continue watering and mowing as needed. Once the season draws to a close and the temperature begins to drop, you should set your mower’s blades to their lowest setting for the last two cuts of the season. This will allow more sunlight to reach the crown of the grass and help the soil dry out faster in the spring.

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Fall Cleanup Pro Tip
Only cut your grass if it is still growing. Once the temperatures consistently drop below 50 degrees during the day, you can put your mower away for the season.

Pink and yellow polka dot boots with spike shoes aerating lawn

4. Aerate the Lawn

Aerating your lawn can remove thatch, alleviate soil compaction and beautify your grass overall. Having excess thatch or heavy organic debris under the grassy surface can starve the roots from essential elements like air and water. Experts say the best time to aerate your lawn is in the fall during the growing season. Grass can heal and fill open areas more quickly once soil plugs are removed.

The easiest way to aerate your lawn is to purchase or rent a gas-powered aerator from your local hardware store. Smaller lawns can be aerated using spiked lawn aerator shoes, but for lawns larger than three acres, you might want to hire a landscaper instead of doing it yourself.

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Fall Cleanup Pro Tip
Aerate and seed your lawn early in the fall with cool-weather grass seed to take advantage of the warmer soil. Overseed and overwater your lawn to maximize the aeration process and give your new grass a quick kick-start.

5. Add Fertilizer

There is no better feeling than strolling around your neighborhood with a sense of pride knowing that your grass is the greenest of them all. However, this requires some additional ingredients beyond just water and sunshine. Fall’s cooler temperatures and morning dew provide the perfect setting to fertilize your lawn and let grass regain its strength after the summer heat.

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“Fall is the best time to fertilize as it helps your lawn develop a stronger root system over the winter months for a thicker, more vigorous lawn the following spring. Watering is optional [after fertilizing], but it will activate the fertilizer and begin the feeding process. You can simply wait until the next rainfall, unless your daytime temperatures will exceed 85 degrees. If temperatures are extremely high, we do recommend watering immediately after application.”
Jessica, Brand Ambassador, Scotts

Man spreading brown mulch around hostas in landscaping

6. Mulch Around Plants and Trees

Mulching around plants during your fall yardwork has several benefits, from preventing soil erosion to suppressing weeds. Be sure to give perennials and cool-weather annuals a 2 to 3-inch layer of mulch to keep them healthy during the colder season. Applying mulch in the fall can also eliminate weed growth, leaving you with none to pull in the spring.

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Fall Cleanup Pro Tip
Save money by using organic mulches like pine needles, straw, sawdust, fallen leaves and grass clippings to introduce essential nutrients into the soil.

7. Rake Over Bald Spots

Is your lawn looking a little patchy? Fall is also a great time to handle any bare, bald spots on your lawn. The easiest way to handle the dead areas in your lawn is to apply an all-in-one lawn repair mixture, which you can pick up from your local home improvement or lawn care store. This solution usually contains a mixture of grass seed, fertilizer and organic mulch.

Black garbage bags full of leaves waiting for pickup in driveway

8. Don’t Forget About Garden Maintenance

Caring for your garden in the fall will make all the difference when plant your produce in the spring again. Before the cold temperatures harden the ground, remove all weeds and debris to prevent insects and diseases from settling in the winter. Water your garden plants diligently and they will be thanking you all winter long. You might also consider trimming perennial vegetables and herbs back a few inches once the ground is frozen.

Need a cleanup solution for the rest of your yard debris? Check out our Complete Yard Waste Disposal Guide!

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