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Partner Post: Fall Landscaping Checklist

Davey Tree’s ultimate guide to prepping your yard for the cold

With fall upon us, we’re eagerly awaiting the transformation of bright green leaves to the buttery yellow, deep red and vibrant orange colors the season is best known for. The changing autumn colors really are the best part of the season.


Even though these fall changes happen each year without our intervention, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. There’s much more to these majestic trees than the eye can see. Help your trees stay healthy and strong this fall, and all year long, by giving them the care they need now.

This is the time of year to prep your yard for the next growing season. Cooling temperatures slow above-ground growth while moist soil encourages strong root development.

As you marvel at the magnificent fall color on your trees, take the time to also inspect your trees more closely. Tasks such as pruning dead branches and heavy leaf cover protect plants' overall health.

Mark off each of these six steps in this fall checklist and your trees will be sure to stand tall and strong for seasons to come.

  1. Survey the Property

Fall is a great time to inspect your landscape and look for signs of damage from weather, insects and diseases. Emerald ash borer, scale, mites, beetles or lace bugs are common tree pests to make note of. Take action now to treat and manage insects and diseases to ensure healthy trees all year.

  1. Fertilize for Fall

Vital nutrients are constantly being absorbed from the soil around the trees’ roots. Help make sure the soil is replenished so your trees can gain nutrients lost continue. Apply a slow-release fertilizer to replace nutrients and improve resistance to damage from disease, insects and stressful weather.

  1. Hydrate for Hearty Roots

Fall is a great season to give trees a hearty gulp of water before winter strikes. To make sure they are well-hydrated throughout the freezing winter, quench your trees’ roots.

A subsurface watering treatment is the most efficient way to give roots exactly what they need before winter. Using an injection probe, a certified arborist distributes water through the top 12 inches of soil — the area your trees need water the most. The subsurface watering method is ideal for trees and shrubs without irrigation systems, newly planted trees and trees that need temporary relief from drought stress. 

  1. Plant in a Timely Manner

Some trees shed their leaves in autumn and sprout new life in the spring, but did you know fall is actually the best time to plant new trees? Planting trees and shrubs in early fall gives plants a head start to establish roots in the season's cool, moist soil.

The lower temperatures combine with the reduced chance of stress from sun scorch, drought or extremely high temperatures, gives newly planted trees the chance to build root mass and prepare for winter dormancy.

To ensure your tree is planted correctly, dig a hole twice the diameter and to a depth of two inches less than the full height of the root ball. Next, position the tree or shrub in the hole and make sure the top of the root ball remains at ground level, not below. Fill the hole with soil and allow water to settle.  Add more soil to top of root ball and mulch as needed. 

  1. Mulch Young Trees and Plants

Give young trees and shrubs the best chance to survive cold temperatures and snow by adding a layer of mulch before the ground freezes. High-quality mulch helps keep nutrient-dense organic matter in the soil around the tree, conserves soil moisture and helps control weeds.

Now is a great time to start making your own organic mulch. Rake fallen leaves onto a plastic tarp. This will make them easier to transfer. Add leaf matter from gutters and lawn clippings to the tarp and toss everything into a compost bin. Rotate the leaf pile every week with a garden fork to aerate; the resulting "black gold" can be used next year to mulch trees and shrubs.

Other organic mulches can be made of weed-free straw, shredded hardwood or wood chips.

Cover the planting hole with one to two inches of mulch. Don’t over mulch or “volcano” mulch. Keep mulch two to three inches away from the stems of shrubs or trunks or mulch will cause wood to rot over time.

  1. Equip for the Cold

You know winter is coming, so start preparing now for the snow, frost and ice. Any extreme weather condition may pose a higher risk of stress for your trees. Lifeless branches can succumb to winter snow and winds, endangering you and your home. Cable, brace and prune  if necessary before the snow and ice hit.

If your tree has weakened or has broken or rotting branches, it may not be strong enough to withstand the added weight of a heavy snowfall or ice storm. Pruning is a cornerstone of any successful tree care program. Pruning in fall can be easier because most trees have little to no leaves, exposing the structure underneath. Cut cracked, loose and diseased limbs close to the trunk and leave wounds exposed to heal.

For big jobs, call a certified arborist.

Trees do many things to make our world better, especially during autumn. By following these steps this fall, your trees will not only thank you, but will stand stronger healthier and happier because of it.



The Davey Tree Expert Company’s more than 8,600 employees provide tree care, grounds maintenance and environmental consulting services for the residential, utility, commercial, and government markets throughout the U.S. and Canada. Davey has provided Proven Solutions for a Growing World since 1880 and has been employee-owned for 37 years. For more information, visit

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