Fall yard clean-up starts with the gutters, which requires setting up a ladder to reach them. Remember to always have someone holding the bottom of the ladder and don't try to stretch that extra two or three feet. Get down and move the ladder! For those who don't like ladders, there are a couple of options. First, you can have gutter guards installed to keep leaves out. Second, there are leaf blower extensions that can reach up into the gutter and blow leaves out. Either way, you'll need to be sure that the joints where the gutter meets the downspouts are cleaned out.
Once they are clean, take a hose and pour some water into your gutters and watch where it goes. Do you need extensions to direct the water away from your foundation and prevent leaks? When diverting water, be sure to avoid driveway and walkways, which could ice over and become hazards in the winter.
A Lawn Winter
Leaf cleanup is a necessary but never-ending battle. Leaves left scattered for the winter will smother the lawn. Don't worry, however, about getting every last leaf out of the plant beds. As they breakdown, leaves can help insulate plants and provide them with valuable nutrients.
As for what do to with all the leaves you've raked, remember to recycle them in your own compost pile or at a town recycling center. If you are using the leaves on your own compost pile, either grind them up or run them over with a lawn mower to speed decomposition. To move large piles of leaves, I recommend piling them onto a tarp and dragging them to their destination, be it compost pile or trash bag.
Once the leaves are collected, cut your lawn one last time before the winter, trimming it as short as possible to prevent matting, disease and rodent damage. When you are done mowing, run the lawn mower itself until it runs out of gas. Gas left to sit in the tank over the winter will gum up the carburetor so it won't run as well next spring. Also, change the oil, grease the engine and pull and inspect the spark plug. Before you replace it, place several drops of five-weight oil in the hole and pull the start cord several times to lubricate the engine so it won't rust. In the spring, you'll only have to add gas, sharpen the blades and start mowing again.
Early in November, I like to fertilize the lawn with a high phosphorus mixture to promote root growth over the winter, so the grass will green up sooner come spring. Fall is also a great time to fertilize trees and shrubs. (See our article on Fall Fertilizing.) I don't recommend pruning ornamental trees and shrubs, as they can contract dieback and suffer from winter desiccation—although I will admit to pruning my holly trees right before Christmas.
You perennials will need to be cut back as they fade. While you are at it, scratch some super phosphate fertilizer into the soil around them. In the garden, remove leftover vegetation and put it in the compost pile. Then rake lime and fertilizer into the soil bed and sow a cover crop of winter rye.
Now's the time to get your snowblower up and running. Nothing's more frustrating than having your snowblower not start when the first snow storm hits. If you're a snow shoveler, double check that your shovels are where you left them and in working order. They have a funny habit of disappearing over the year.
If you have an irrigation system, be sure that it is cleared of water so it won't freeze up and damage pipes. If you don't, drain your hoses by laying them on a downward slope and pulling them slowly toward you, coiling as you go. Once they're coiled, tie and store them in your garage or shed. Then head to the basement to shut off the water to your outdoor spigots. On the pipe, in between the shut-off and the spigot, you'll find a weep valve that you can open and drain into a bucket. These steps will prevent pipes from freezing and bursting.
For the Birds
One of the fall activities I enjoy most is setting up my bird feeders. After all my fall yard chores are done, there is nothing better than sitting back with a hot cup of coffee and watching the birds fly by.