4 Tips for Putting Your Garden to Bed This Fall

Updated on September 13th, 2013
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By: Julie Jacobson, Redfin Associate Agent in Los Angeles

One of my clients who lives near the water in West Los Angeles just told me she can smell the seasons changing on the ocean breeze. Whether you have the same finely-tuned sense or not, as the summer comes to a bittersweet conclusion, there is no denying change is in the air. Whether you have a balcony garden or a one-acre plot, it’s important to get your garden settled in for a rest before you begin hibernating with books and pots of soup. Here are four things to put on your to-do list that will help you prepare for the seasonal shift.

Compost dead plants and leaves1. Clean up and compost dead plants

Nobody likes to see dead plants, even if they’re in a far neglected corner of your yard. Start by gathering dead leaves and trimming back dead or dying plant matter and toss it in your yard waste bin, compost heap, or in the case of big piles, haul it to your city’s transfer station. If you’re selling your home, trim heavily and gather as much as you can, but if you’re keeping your home, consider leaving the annuals to rot in place, as they’ll make a nice compost mulch for your garden beds. To keep your garden interesting in the winter, you can leave attractive seed heads and ornamental grasses. If you enjoy bird watching, leave flowers like cosmos and echinacea, which have seeds birds will eat. A well-tidied garden free of dead plants can be an open palette for you to envision improvements you’d like to make next spring.

2. Choose the right plants

Fall is a good time to move plants around in your garden or add new ones. The right plants will please you, flourish in your climate, attract local insects and wildlife, and won’t take too much time to maintain. When in doubt about adaptability, check the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map to see what will thrive in your area, and when that plant prefers to be transplanted. For any new plantings, read up on the care required and don’t just consider your own preferences, but think about the person who may want to buy your home in a year or two. A bed of ivy may be easy and will grow in quickly, but is viewed by many as an invasive vine that can damage other plants, buildings, and windows. Roses can add a lot of color to your garden, but they’re labor intensive plants future owners may not have time to care for. It’s important to keep maintenance in mind if you plan to sell your home soon.

3. Plan out and prepare for big projects


At the end of the season, things don’t feel quite as urgent as when the crocuses push up in March. Take advantage of the slower time of year to set things up for the following spring. If you’re thinking about installing new garden beds, till the earth and plant cover crops now. If you’ve always wanted a tree or shrub on the east side of your yard, plant it in the fall, when the heat won’t stress it. If you live in a northern climate, trim back your path so shoveling snow is easier during the winter. It will be easier and safer for you to navigate and will also make your home look well-maintained to winter home buyers. If you live in a southern climate, investigate which plants and vegetables grow through a more moderate fall and winter, and plant them now. ¬†However, even if you don’t plan on selling immediately, think through any large change you plan to make to your yard. Not every potential buyer will as be as excited about a koi pond or meditation hut as you are, and in some cases, it could hurt the prospects for your home. When in doubt, ask for your realtor’s advice.

4. Adopt a conservation mindset

I live in Los Angeles and work with a lot of buyers who are looking for yards with native and adapted plants instead of traditional green grass. Not only are these low-maintenance ‘xeriscaped’ yards better adapted to our desert climate, but they require less water, chemicals and fertilizers than grass, which translates into lower utility and gardening bills. Some of my clients are xeriscaping or doing rock gardens in their yards, which in Southern California are eligible for a $2/square foot rebate for replacing thirsty lawns. Other areas of the country offer similar rebates too, so check with your local county, state and utility company if they have a “cash for grass” program.

Even if you live in wetter, colder climates, the same conservation principles apply. Opt for native and adapted plants better suited to your local soil and climate. These types of plants will attract local insects, including pollinators like bees and hummingbirds, which will help the environment. In addition, these plants require fewer chemicals and fertilizers, and can be clipped instead of mowed, resulting in less pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. Extra points for helping our feathered friends through the winter by hanging bird feeding and nesting stations.

Another easy way to preserve water is to convert your sprinklers to a drip-line irrigation system, which dribbles water slowly and directly to the plant roots. Drip lines waste less water than sprinklers that spray randomly, often on concrete, and don’t deliver water to plant roots. Not only can sustainable gardens express more personality than a traditional lawn, but they are becoming increasingly popular with homebuyers and owners, and can save you money in the long term.

Periodic seasonal maintenance will help you get a head start on the spring and also ensure your garden looks well cared-for and is sustainable. You’ll feel organized and ready for fall and winter, and if you’re preparing to sell, it will signal to potential buyers that the whole property has been maintained.

Got a garden tip to share? Tell us about it in the comments.

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