Landscaping is a crucial part of keeping your home looking its best year-round, but in order for it to do so, you must be aware of the proper upkeep required for each of the seasons.  Many people get really excited about improving their property in the spring, and with good reason, but neglect the importance of attending to aspects of landscaping that are best done in the fall months.  This is certainly easy to do, as we closely relate spring as a time of new growth that features the emergence of greenery after the seemingly unending, stark surroundings of a Nebraska winter.  As fall approaches, there are also steps you may need to take to ensure your lawn, garden, trees and outdoor features are protected during the winter months.  Additionally, fall is a great time to plan (and plant) for what you desire your yard to look like once spring rolls around again.  The month of October is the perfect time to whip your yard into shape before winter, and we have assembled some great information and tips from our experts to help get your started!

Establishing, Protecting and Caring for Your Landscape in the Fall

Fall is truly as optimal a time for landscaping as the spring, simply for a different set of reasons.  For the do-it-yourself homeowners, working in the crisp air can be a welcome respite from the sometimes brutal summers. We can get more work done when we are not suffering from the heat. Also, the fall season is a time when contractors may have time to fit projects into their schedule more readily–you may even find that discounts are available.  The most important reason for taking time to complete your fall landscape projects, from a horticulturist’s perspective, is the rewards that may not be apparent until the following year. We all know that proper preparation is the key to success.  Preparation requires watering, fertilizing and protection. If we do not take the time to insure that our plants and lawn are receiving what they require, we cannot expect that they have a foreseeable future.

In addition to the fun and more labor intensive fall landscaping projects, don’t forget the essential general landscaping duties that should be completed in the fall. These are watering, fertilizing and protection. Watering is vital to surviving our sometimes brutal winters. New plantings may have a tendency to heave in the winter if they have not set down roots into the native soil surrounding the original planting hole. Making sure that they have adequate water will insure that a healthy root structure is established. As is often the case, never assume that rainfall is enough for your plants. Fertilizing is another simple task that can reap rewards the following year. Whether it be your lawn or planting beds, a good winterizing fertilizer will provide essential nutrients for your garden until the following growing season. Keep in mind that as the season draws to a close, you want to eliminate nitrogen (the first number in the fertilizers formula: X-X-X) to prevent unnecessary new growth heading in to the dormant winter. Protection refers to the special needs that elements in the garden require. This could be blowing out the irrigation lines in anticipation of the freezing weather to providing extra mulch to perennials and shrubs that are not as hardy to our climate.

jeremy hunt hunt irrigation lincoln nebraskaDuring the fall months, the weather is typically cooler and landscape establishment is much easier.  According Jeremy Hunt, President of Hunt Irrigation, “When renovating landscape it is important to remember that major bed renovations will also require adapting your irrigation system.  Sprinkler heads that are trapped inside new or existing landscapes will reduce the coverage of turf areas causing stress to the turf and even over watering some plant material. Landscape is a major investment, whether on a residential or commercial project, so it is important to consult with both your landscaper and irrigation professional.  While you are updating or adding landscape beds consider irrigating the beds with drip irrigation.  When properly installed, drip irrigation can enhance the plant’s health and ensure that your landscaping will thrive for years to come.  When installing foundation border landscapes, drip irrigation is also a great addition.  Drip uses approximately 50% less water than aerial delivery systems, it is more precise, more controllable, and requires less weeding of landscape areas.  With the drier weather Eastern Nebraska has been experiencing it is also a great way to keep the soil moist around the foundation of your home to assist in preventing foundation shift.

Hunt adds, “Fall is also a great time to have your irrigation system audited.  If your irrigation system is older and has not been tuned up in at least the last two years, it is time for a check-up.  Just as you perform maintenance to your car, furnace/AC or your lawn mower, your irrigation system also needs a little attention from time to time.  Always keep your eyes out for the obvious such as broken heads, leaky valves, squishy areas in the lawn, but also look for signs of stress or uneven watering.  If there are areas of your yard that look greener than others or you have high and low areas consider giving your irrigation professional a call as this could be something as simple as cleaning a nozzle obstruction or it could be a sign that your irrigation system is not designed correctly.  Proper water distribution (matched precipitation) is a very important part of your sprinkler system’s operation and your turf’s health.”

Hunt also offers some general tips and advice on general projects and procedures that should be performed in the fall:

Turf Management

Fall is a great time to plant just about anything.  From a turf management perspective, fall is a great time for aeration and over seeding.  The best seed window is from September 15th to October 15th.  If you do not intend to aerate your yard in the fall then consider slit seeding or drilling the seed.  Either one of these methods implants the seed in the soil and protects it from neighborhood friends like birds, squirrels and rabbits.  Seeding in the fall usually requires less water to establish the newly planted seed.  Another advantage to fall over seeding is weed control, as weeds are at the end of their growing cycle.

Outdoor Lighting

Fall is also a great time to add outdoor lighting to your landscape.  As the days grow shorter low voltage outdoor lighting can give your landscaping a distinctive look from dusk till dawn.  When it comes to lighting outdoor spaces, most tend to think of simply illuminating the exterior of a structure or property or a path. One of the most underestimated aspects of landscape lighting is that it can actually extend living space physically as well as visually.

When light is brought to a dark backyard or front yard, it visually pushes the boundaries of a house. The more elements that are lit, the more people will push the edges of where a person will tend to gravitate to beyond the interior of a house. Pushing this boundary creates a visually striking look for the outside of the house.  A properly designed outdoor lighting project can add both beauty and security to any home.

Plant Fruit Trees

Fruit trees should be planted in the fall or very early spring. Planting fruit trees for a fall landscaping project will be rewarding for years to come. Decide what type of tree you want to plant and make sure that it will survive in your zone and fit into your landscape once fully grown. Many fruit trees come in dwarf varieties and can be pruned to maintain a smaller size. Look for a young and healthy tree at a local nursery. Follow planting recommendations for your variety of tree.


One of the most important things to keep in mind in regards to your underground irrigation system as fall draws near is the winterization process.  Whether you choose to use the gravity drain method or blow the system out with pressurized air you want to make sure you or your irrigation professional winterizes the system correctly.  An improper winterization can lead to expensive repairs in the spring.  While it is not required on most residential systems, winterizing with pressurized air is the only way to ensure all the water has been evacuated from your system.  If you blow-out your own irrigation system make sure to never exceed 70 psi.

Landscaping in the fall can also contribute to your home’s year-round curb appeal. One of the reasons why curb appeal is significant for homeowners, besides increasing the home’s overall value, is its contagious effect. Home improvements seem to have an impact on a street that comes in waves. Call it ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ if you like, but when one homeowner makes improvements it gives others ideas. This phenomenon can also spur conversation between neighbors. Going on morning or evening walks becomes a research adventure to decide what the next outdoor project is going to be tackled. Talk to your neighbors about respectable contractors, new tips, new products or what vegetables they have growing this year, and you will find new relationships and forming.  For those that are considering a move, an outdoor landscaping project can have a considerable effect on the resale value of your home. Make sure you talk to your realtor about what improvements have the most return on your investment.

Outdoor Projects—Fall Hardscaping is Important Too!

Hardscaping projects are also best completed in the fall, as many qualified contractors are trying to squeeze as many projects in before they have to eventually close up shop. As long as the ground is not frozen, you may find that you can get on their schedule much faster than in the spring. If a mild winter occurs, you may find that projects can be completed all the way up to December. Decks in particular are nice to do in the fall, as you can then let the new lumber season and seal it the following year.  Or if you want to add a space that you can enjoy during the winter as well, sunrooms are the perfect choice.  Terri Rediger of Malibu Sunrooms emphasizes that there are many outdoor projects that should be completed in the fall as this is the optimal time to do so.  “Replacing or repairing doors and windows in your house is especially important when facing the harsh winters we get in Nebraska and Iowa.  Broken seals, air infiltration and poor weather stripping can affect both your energy bill and your comfort in the winter.  Adding ice and water shield to your roof is also a very important aspect of maintaining your home.  About 5 years ago, building codes changed and an ice and water shield are now required on roofs.  However, this was not always the case and there are many roofs out there today without this important element.  Ice and water shield creates a barrier between your shingles and your roof decking. Without it, ice builds up and pushes itself under the shingles, which then can leak into your house.  Ice and water shield is a secondary defense against leaks.”

Rediger also speaks to the significance of curb appeal.  She says, “When considering the importance of curb appeal, upkeep is just a part of being a homeowner.  When our homes are well cared for, our property values go up.  A lot of times, it’s not just for our own property–it’s also for the good of the neighborhood.  Curb appeal is always important when it comes to selling and buying homes.  When buyers can ‘see’ continued maintenance and care, it strikes a chord that indicates there are no problems or issues with the home.  Now, there is upkeep, and then there’s the ‘WOW factor’.  Landscaping, beautiful decks or concrete and water features add tremendous appeal to your home.  Sunrooms not only add beauty to your home, but also additional finished square feet!  I haven’t met one person who was sorry they added a sunroom.  Who wouldn’t want to feel like they are outside all year long?  And aside from adding a classy look outside of your home, a sunroom adds class, sunshine and architectural appeal from the INSIDE of your home.  Most people who own a sunroom will tell you that they literally ‘live’ in their room.  No other room in the house gets used as much as a sunroom.  The ‘feeling of the outdoors’ in any season or weather is what gets them.  The cost of a new sunroom is generally about the same price as a new car.  Some people are okay with a new Toyota, while some people want a new BMW.  These are options that are available depending on your budget and your individual taste—much like the options available for a sunroom.  After ten years, your car unfortunately isn’t worth anything near what you paid for it but a new sunroom will likely be worth one and a half times what you paid for it!  Sometimes, we just need to put things into perspective.  We live in our homes and this is where we naturally invest most of our money.  Cars are nice, but they won’t provide additional living space, a place to have Thanksgiving dinner, a space to relax, to watch TV, to read a book, to play with grandchildren, to open Christmas presents or to watch the wildlife that takes place in your own backyard.  As far as adding value to your home, there is no question that a sunroom fits the bill.  But adding value to your life and your lifestyle, well I don’t think there’s a price you can put on that.”

sue crawford precast products lincoln nebraskaWhile decks and sunrooms are crafted specifically to handle the elements, some of your outdoor furniture and decorations may not be made with the same considerations in mind.  Remember, the combination of desiccant winds and freezing temperatures can wreak havoc upon not only the living elements of the garden but the structures as well. Some of the plastics that are produced can become quite brittle in the winter and might be brought inside until the temperatures rise again.  If you’re looking for outdoor furniture that can be left outside year round, Precast Products offers furniture that is made to withstand extreme climates and temperature changes!  Sue Crawford of Precast Products explains that their outdoor furniture is made of recycled High Density Polyethylene, or recycled plastic milk and water jugs, and will not break down or become brittle from the sun or cold. Additionally, their Maintenance-Free Outdoor Furniture is backed by a 35-year guarantee to never crack, break, rot, or peel and is proudly manufactured in the U.S.A.

Tree Planting and Care

When assessing your landscaping in the fall, stand back and look up. We often do not consider our trees as much as we should. Look at the shadows that they cast. Look for dieback as it is easier to identify when the tree is in full leaf than during the dormant season. Limbs that can be cut to allow more light into the garden or that may be susceptible to damage in a winter storm should be identified now. Do not attempt to prune them now, as pruning promotes new growth. However, knowing where to cut can mean taking advantage of an unseasonably warm February day to do some tree pruning. Trees, like all plants, prepare themselves for the winter. Trees do this by losing their leaves and redirecting all of energy they produce to the root system. Fall tree planting presents the opportunity that doesn’t exist in the spring. Rather than try to sustain all the new growth that a tree will have in the spring and summer, as well as associated pests, a fall planted tree needs only to be adequately watered, well-mulched, properly staked to insure healthy growth the following year. Be sure to allow plenty of time from planting to frost to make sure roots have time to form.

brent hall blue ox tree service lincoln nebraskaBrent Hall, CTSP, Arborist with Blue Ox Tree Service emphasizes that fall is not only a great time for general yard care, but especially for tree and shrub planting and maintenance.  He says, “It’s a good time to remove any drying or dead trees and bushes in your yard for re-planting this fall or to prepare for early spring planting. Fall is also a great time to trim the dead limbs and branches from your trees to prepare for the large amount of ice and snow we may get this winter.  Blue Ox Tree Service provides expert service in trimming and removal of your trees—we go out on a limb for our customers!  Having your trees trimmed properly can not only add to the aesthetics of your yard but will increase your property value as well.  Fall planting is also a great time to put a new tree into your existing landscape.  Due to cooler temperatures coming out of summer, planting a new tree in the fall will give your tree a good start going into the next growing season.”  Blue Ox Tree Service is a Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) accredited company and they are professionals at what they do best—tree care.

Trees are essential to the urban fabric of our neighborhoods. They are an investment in the future of how a community looks and feels. Trees should be assessed on a regular basis for health and vigor. Having a tree professional visit your property to advise you on the expected life span of your trees is a great start in the right direction. Also, if a mature tree on your property is expected to die, it is never too early to plant a tree in its place. This is sometimes referred to succession planting. As it takes many years for trees to reach mature size, it is imperative to start the process early.

Tips for Planning and Planting Your Fall (and Spring!) Garden

Fall is a time when we can stand back and assess our gardens with a more critical eye. The bustle of the summer activities are coming to an end and the kids are busy getting back into the swing of school. We can look at the garden to see what succeeded and what plants didn’t quite live up to (sometimes literally) what we had in mind. There may be holes in the garden that need attention. By late July, many garden centers are trying to clear out inventory and good deals can be found on perennials and shrubs. In addition to end of the summer deals, mums, asters, and other fall blooming perennials come on the market. These selections are great to add instant color and fill in bare spots of the garden. Desired tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, or other bulbs must be planted in the fall.  Accomplishing this requires us to remember what the garden looked like in the spring. Taking photos of each section of the garden at different points of the growing season can be a very helpful tool when deciding where to plant these types of bulbs. During the fall, pull out those photos so that you can make an accurate decision on where to plant the newest varieties from Holland. Remember that, just like with any new planting, adequate water and fertilizing is necessary for success. A good bulb food, such as bone meal, should always be available at your garden center.

Judy Dlouhy, a Container Garden and Outdoor Living Space Sales Associate with Earl May Garden Center, offers plenty of tips and ideas for successful fall landscaping preparations:

“With the heat of summer behind us, fall invites many opportunities to change up the look of container gardens that welcome guests entering your home or business.  First impressions are long lasting and the stress of the summer heat has left most front entry containers looking dry and tired. Fall offers the opportunity to add fresh new brilliant color, shapes and textures to your patio and outdoor living space.  Many cool-weather loving plants are available to create magnificent fall arrangements that will have you looking forward to enjoying the relaxing cool evenings that fall brings upon us.  Various options exist to enliven an outdoor living space and make it enjoyable for the current season.  Fire pits and cool-weather containers are the hallmark of fall.  A move as simple as switching out the cushions on your patio furniture aside fresh fall containers can bring the colors of fall to your outdoor space.  Think of plants with colorful leaves, beautiful berries, or grassy foliage.  Small ornamental grasses along with blooming accent plants can be tucked into almost any pot to replace annuals that are past their prime. There are many perennials that continue to flower and put on a show in the fall, making this late season just as beautiful in the container garden as it is in nature.

The design team at your local Earl May Garden Center has already been creating fabulous fall containers with assorted mums, asters, accent plants and ornamental grasses! Container gardens offer a unique advantage–changing with the seasons. You can choose containers that are prearranged by our designers, or we can assist you in choosing from our vast selection of plants in order to custom create a design that is your own and works with your existing landscape and outdoor living area.  I am available by appointment to come to your home and advise you on pot selection and placement and will help you create a look that works for your home.  Several different themes of design are available from traditional to modern and unique, or back to nature that invokes a woodsy feel.  If you’re not quite sure which design would best suit your home, I can help you develop a design scheme with a look that you can easily add to in the coming years.  When the season changes I will guide you through a seamless transition that will provide a fresh look for your containers.  Our Earl May team values our excellent reputation for outstanding customer service and follow through on creating an outdoor living space for you to enjoy.  We pride ourselves in assisting you in creating the vision you have for the various seasons with your container gardening and outdoor living space.   Visit our Earl May Garden Center at 5555 South 48th Street in Lincoln and mention this Strictly Business article to enjoy a 20% savings off of your first custom design order placed with me!”

As winter is quickly approaching, now is the time to enjoy the beauty of fall before it is gone—starting with your own property and landscape! Moreover, getting in the habit of attending to specific seasonal tasks and projects will keep your yard stunning year-round and provides many other benefits as well. So get creative with a few new projects or improvements, make sure you remember to check and protect your existing features, and when in doubt always utilize local professionals who are more than happy to lend their expertise to ensure your landscape is properly cared for and looks great in any season!