Once the dog days of summer give way to the cooler temperatures of fall, it’s time to get your house in shape for the change of seasons. Fall is the perfect time of year to work outside, with just enough of a nip in the air to make it pleasant, but not so much that you need a heavy coat. Before Old Man Winter comes calling, take advantage of these temperate days to tackle our to-do list of 35 projects.
Mulch Garden Beds
As the weather gets cooler, it's time to put your garden to bed under a blanket of mulch. Protect annuals and perennials from the cold by covering them with a two-to-four-inch layer of organic material, such as shredded wood or wood chips, shredded leaves, or straw. For shrubs, trees, and rosebushes, wait to spread mulch until later in the season, when the soil is cool but not yet frozen.
Deadhead Garden Plants
Insects love nothing better than overwintering beneath dead flowers, leaves, and other plant material, so roll up the welcome mat by raking away fallen leaves, pulling spent annuals, pruning perennials and roses, and clearing out your summer vegetables before frost strikes.
Bring In Container Plants
Once nighttime temperatures sink below 50 degrees, it’s time for your tender container plants to move indoors for the season. Before carrying them into your house or to a protected spot in the garage, first clip away any dead or damaged leaves and branches, then check carefully for insects; treat, if necessary.
Nothing says spring is coming like colorful tulips, daffodils, crocuses, irises, and hyacinths, but if you want to enjoy these beauties in your spring garden, you need to plant bulbs in the fall. As a general rule, northern gardeners should plant spring-blooming bulbs in late September through mid-October, while southern gardeners can wait until mid-October or early November.
Related: 30 Ways to Color Your Yard This Fall
Keep warm air in and cold air out, and reduce your heating bills at the same time, by taking care of any leaky doors or windows now. Check for drafts by turning off fans or air conditioners, then holding a lit stick of incense near doors and windows. If the smoke wavers or is sucked outside, you know you have a problem. The solution is simple, though: Caulk any cracks or chips around windows, and install weatherstripping to ward off drafts around doors.
Check Smoke Detectors
According to the National Fire Protection Association, three out of every five residential fire deaths occur in a home that either has no smoke detector at all, or a smoke detector with nonfunctioning batteries. Don’t let your family become a statistic. Check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors at the very least twice a year, once in the fall and again in the spring.
Inspect the Fireplace
It’s a good idea to have your home's chimney inspected and swept before fireplace season gets underway. This job is best done by a pro—expect to pay around $150 to $200—but if you're comfortable up on the roof, you can do some preliminary work yourself. First, clear out any fallen leaves, bird’s nests, or other debris from the chimney, and repair any small cracks in the masonry with refractory cement, which is formulated to withstand high heat. Ensure that the damper moves smoothly and isn’t cracked, rusted, or warped, and then clean away soot, creosote, and ash.
Paint Your Home's Exterior
If you’ve been thinking of giving the outside of your house a fresh coat of paint, now’s the time to either do it yourself or hire a professional to get the job done before the cold, wet weather kicks in.
Reseed the Lawn
Want your lawn to look its best come springtime? Then sow grass seed in early through mid-fall. Reseeding the lawn gives gardeners in cold-winter areas a head start on spring. As the weather warms up, the grass will germinate, crowd out weeds, and develop a strong root system before the high heat of summer. If you live in a warm-winter region and want to keep your grass green all season long, sow annual ryegrass in the early fall. This quick-sprouting grass will look great through the chilly months and then die down once higher temperatures return in the summer.
Seal the Driveway
If you have an asphalt driveway, reseal it in the fall when temperatures are between 50 and 70 degrees and no rain is in the forecast. For most areas, that means late September to early October. To start, sweep away dirt, leaves, and other debris from the asphalt, and then pour asphalt sealant over the driveway. Using an asphalt squeegee, evenly spread the sealant across the driveway’s entire surface. Let the sealant cure for at least 24 hours before parking on the driveway.
Inspect the Roof
Winter can be hard on your roof, when rain, snow, freezing temperatures, and high winds all take their toll. That’s why fall is the best time to make sure your roof is up to the challenge and complete any necessary repairs before cold weather sets in. You can hire a professional for this service or, if you're up to the task, do it yourself.
Buy a Better Rake
Autumn means raking leaves, and raking leaves can mean back pain. Make the job easier on yourself by buying a good rake. The right one is long enough so you don’t need to bend over, has flexible yet durable tines to easily scoop up debris, and has a comfortable, ergonomically designed grip so your hands don’t feel the strain.
Organize the Mudroom
In most regions, fall brings rain—and a parade of muddy shoes. Get your mudroom ready for the season by setting out a large mat to absorb water and a tray to hold wet, muddy boots and shoes. If you don't already have them, add a bench where you can sit and pull on your boots, and a coat rack or wall hooks to hold jackets, umbrellas, and scarves.
Plant a Tree
As they say, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second best time is now. If “now” happens to be autumn, you're in luck! The cooler temperatures and moisture help the tree establish roots before the hot and stressful summer weather. To ensure success, mulch your newly planted tree to keep the roots insulated. Water regularly if there's not enough rain, but don’t fertilize until spring. Avoid heavy pruning, other than trimming away any broken branches. And if a severe cold snap is in the forecast, wrap a blanket or piece of burlap over the tree for a little extra protection while it gets established.
Create a Command Center
With summer fun in the rearview mirror, fall is the time for getting back to business. Creating an organization HQ for the whole family is a great way to help you stay on task. Put it in a central location like the kitchen, mudroom, or back entryway, where the whole family can see it. Include a large wall calendar or weekly schedule, a whiteboard for appointment reminders or shopping lists, and a bulletin board for important announcements or incoming and outgoing school forms. If your family uses a chore chart or meal planning chart, this would be the place to put it. Set up caddies to collect keys and other daily necessities so they'll be easy to find and won't clutter up the rest of the house.
Drain Your Water Heater
Drain the tank of your hot water heater to remove accumulations of lime and other minerals that naturally occur in your tap water. When left untreated, these buildups can impair the functioning of your appliance and put your system at risk for leaks and other problems. It's an easy enough job to do yourself, but if you're not confident in your DIY abilities, call a pro to do it for you. Simple though it may seem, this one task can lengthen the life of your water heater and prevent the system from malfunctioning down the line.
Keep Out Mice
As temperatures drop, mice and other pests will be looking for a warm place to bunk, which is all well and good unless they choose your home as their winter retreat. Stay pest-free by doing a walkabout around the exterior and through the interior of your house and plugging any potential points of entry with caulk or steel wool. Keep in mind that mice can enter your home through a dime-size hole, so pay attention to even the smallest of cracks.
Related: 8 Signs You May Have Mice
Put Away Patio Furniture
Fall leaves and winter snow can cause your patio furniture to fade, stain, and rust, so protect it by covering it with outdoor-rated patio furniture covers or placing it inside your shed, garage, or screened porch. Before you put the pieces away for the season, give them a proper cleaning with mild soap and water to remove dust, pollen, and mold. Treat wicker with lemon oil to keep it moisturized over the dry winter months and protect it from mildew.
Clean the Grill
Fall weather can be uncertain. Although one day may be warm and sunny, the next may bring freezing rain or snow. Try to stretch your patio and grilling season as far as possible, but be ready to pack the grill away at a moment's notice by giving it a thorough cleaning early in the fall and then touching it up after every use. Soak and scour the grates, clean under the hood, remove any foil or food particles from the interior, and wipe down the exterior. That way, when foul weather moves in for good, you can quickly cover the grill and store it for the season.
Maintain Your Mower
Keep mowing your lawn in the fall until the grass stops growing. Then, when it's time to put the lawn mower away for the season, take steps to ensure that it will be in good working condition when you pull it out again in spring. Wipe away any grass or other debris that clings to the machine, and consider having the blades sharpened by a professional. If you have a gas-powered lawn mower, use up the last of the gasoline in the tank or add fuel stabilizer to prevent damage (check the manufacturer's instructions).
Aerate Your Lawn
If your lawn receives a lot of foot traffic, it could be at risk for soil compaction, a condition that prevents the proper circulation of air and nutrients. To keep your turfgrass nourished, aerate cool-season grasses in fall by using a spike or plug aerator (available for purchase or rental at many home centers). Before you aerate, make sure the soil is moist but not soaking wet, as it can be difficult to aerate dry soil.
Feed Your Turf
Cool-season grasses, like bluegrass and tall fescue, benefit from a fall application of fertilizer. Fertilize your lawn with a slow-release formula about one week before you mow for the last time in the season. Homeowners in colder climes should look for high-nitrogen formulas that offer winter weather protection.
Clean Your Gutters
That stunning fall foliage may look good on the trees in your front yard, but when those leaves drop they can make a mess of your gutters. More than unsightly, leaves and other debris can clog the gutters, posing a real hazard in winter when rain and snow thaw and freeze inside gutters and form dangerous ice dams. Protect your home from damage by removing leaves, sticks, and other debris from gutters now, and consider installing a leaf guard to keep your gutters clean with very little effort on your part.
Install Storm Windows
Button up the house and get ready for windy winter by swapping out your window screens for storm windows (if you have them). And if you don't—particularly if you have vintage single-pane windows that you're trying to save—consider installing storms. They'll offer an additional layer of insulation against cold weather and drafts, and help keep your home more comfortable and your energy bills lower.
Have Your HVAC System Serviced
You don't want to wait until snow is falling and frigid winds are howling to discover that your home heating system is on the fritz. Call a pro to come out and evaluate your heating system now. If the HVAC specialist detects any issues, you can have them fixed promptly and potentially save yourself from a chilly disaster later in the season.
Change the Direction of Your Ceiling Fan
It may seem counterproductive to turn on a ceiling fan during the coldest months of the year, but in fact a ceiling fan helps maintain comfortable temperatures even in the winter. Set your fan to rotate in a clockwise direction (opposite its operating direction in summer), and run it on low speed to create an updraft. This tactic draws the room air up and forces the warm air near the ceiling down and through the room.
Drain Garden Hoses
Because water expands as it freezes, it's important to disconnect and drain garden hoses before temperatures drop to prevent them from bursting or leaking. Store hoses in a covered area like the garage or a tool shed to protect them from harsh weather. Turn off and drain your sprinkler system, and shut off your outdoor faucets before nighttime temperatures dip below 50 degrees.
Trim the Trees
It’s easier to identify dead limbs before your trees drop their leaves, so early fall is a good time to trim back dead branches. Trimming your trees now is more than an aesthetic choice—it can protect your trees and home from damage. In freezing conditions, dead limbs can become heavy with ice and break off, ending up on your roof or lawn, or posing a safety issue for family and passersby alike.
Clean and Cover the AC Unit
For as long as there have been air conditioning covers, people have debated whether they're a good idea. Advocates love covers for the way they keep ice and debris out of the machinery, while detractors fear that covers can create ideal habitats for rodents and other pests that can nest within the wiring. Whatever the case, homeowners who live in colder regions should consider at least covering the top of their outside AC condenser unit with a tarp or sheet of plywood, even if they leave the rest of the unit exposed. Window units, on the other hand, should be removed, cleaned, and stored in a safe place until they're needed again in the summer.
Change Your Furnace Filter
Give your HVAC system a fresh start with a new furnace filter. Furnace filters help maintain cleaner indoor air and keep your home heating system in good working order. Continue to change the filter every few months until you turn off your heat for the season.
Check the Dryer Vent
Clogged dryer vents can cause a perfectly good appliance to operate more slowly and less efficiently, but more importantly they pose a serious fire hazard. Clean out your dryer vents at least once a year to speed up laundry day, keep energy bills low, and protect your home from fires. You can do the job yourself with a vacuum cleaner and a long dowel or wire hanger (if you're careful not to damage the vent), or hire a pro to do the job for you.
Clean the Carpets
Mold counts are on the rise at this time of year, exacerbating indoor allergies. Mount an effective defense by giving your carpets a thorough cleaning. Rent a carpet cleaner or hire a professional service to deep clean your carpeting, giving special attention to the bedrooms and high-traffic areas. If you've been thinking about removing your carpeting in order to breathe more easily, now might be the time to do it. Who knows—you may even have well-protected hardwood floors hiding under those old carpets!
Stock Up on Ice Melt
Don't wait until the first snowstorm of the season to stock up on snow removal supplies. Buy an emergency stash of de-icer, salt, and sand (or kitty litter, in a pinch) to give you traction in slippery situations. Some home centers start selling these supplies as early as September and October, but if your local shop doesn't carry them, you can certainly buy them from online retailers.
Bleed the Radiator
Have you ever cranked up the heat in late fall and waited for your radiators to circulate warm air through your home, only to discover that one or more of your radiators remains cold to the touch? If a radiator isn't working when the rest of your system is operating normally, it's usually a sign that air is trapped inside. This problem can be avoided by bleeding the radiators at the beginning of the season. To do this, first turn off the heat, then engage the bleed valve with a radiator key. Wait for the hissing sound to stop and a stream of water to pour from the radiator before closing up the bleed valve.
Cracks happen, and it's important to take care of them before winter freezes make them worse. To repair cracks in concrete walkways, patios, or driveways, first clear away any dirt or debris from the damaged area, and then fill in the crack with masonry crack filler or concrete patch. Once you’ve filled the crack, smooth the edges of the new material with a trowel, and let the repair cure overnight.
Autumn Action Plan
Get your home and property ready for winter by taking on a few fall maintenance projects.
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