Because summer's heat tends to fade and plants devote lots of energy to root development, autumn is an ideal time to spruce up your lawn and garden. After talking with top-rated service providers, our researchers suggest these seasonal landscaping and yard projects:
— Lawn seeding and aeration. Autumn is the best time to seed and aerate. As the ground temperature drops, the percentage of seeds that successfully germinate rises, meaning better growth. Roots stay active during the winter, so proper lawn care in the fall means stronger and faster growth in the spring.
Aeration loosens compacted soil, allowing water and nutrients to more easily reach roots. To aerate a lawn, use a tow- or walk-behind machine, hand-held implement or even spiked "sandals" that attach to shoes. All of these essentially punch holes through the thatch layer and remove small soil plugs.
Examine your lawn for patches damaged by summer heat and over-seed those areas. Over-seeding means sowing seeds in existing grass, as opposed to digging up grass and starting fresh.
Seeds take 10 to 15 days to germinate; during that time, be sure to water daily.
— Gardening. Plant bulbs in the fall, and you'll be rewarded with bold displays of color from daffodils, tulips and other spring flowers.
— Mowing. Continue to mow, even though grass growth slows during the fall. Experts suggest mowing high to limit stress on grass and encourage deep root growth. If cut too short, grass loses the strength it needs to produce chlorophyll for energy.
Set your mower to cut to a height of about 3 inches until the last few mows of the year, when you can cut lower. Experts recommend following the one-third rule: Never cut more than a third of the overall height at one time.
Also, if you don't have one already, consider getting a mower that mulches clippings and leaves them on the yard, providing nitrogen.
— Trimming. Late fall or early winter is a good time to remove diseased, dead or broken branches from trees and shrubs. Keep in mind, however, that some trees are best pruned later in winter.
— Removing weeds. Treat weeds throughout the year to keep them from growing out of control. In the fall, a broadleaf herbicide is often your best choice, since the chemical can easily reach root systems.
— Fertilizing. Plants' root activity also makes fall a great time to fertilize. Experts generally recommend fertilizing once in early fall with a high nitrogen fertilizer to strengthen new growth and again in late fall with a high phosphorus fertilizer to strengthen root growth.
Product labels will show the ingredients. For example, a 100-pound bag of fertilizer with a content label that reads "25-5-10" contains 25 pounds of nitrogen, five pounds of phosphorus and 10 pounds of potassium. Bag labels also include application instructions.
If you'd prefer to outsource landscape and yard work, there are many companies that provide such services. Prices for lawn care vary, based on specific options. For example, you might pay $80 to $100 a month for mowing, weeding and fertilizing. In comparison, a plan that includes flowerbed weeding, aeration and trimming could cost around $200 a month.
As with hiring any contractor, be sure to get several bids, check references and online reviews, and confirm that the company you choose is appropriately licensed and insured.
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, the nation's most trusted resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care. To find out more about Angie Hicks and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.