Fertilize Cool-Season Grass
For cool-season grass in northern areas, now is the best time to feed the lawn with a mostly potassium (K) and phosphorus (P) fertilizer. That combination promotes root growth and strengthens plants rather than encouraging excessive leaf growth with high nitrogen. Warm soil temperature, cool days, longer nights, and rain make this the perfect time for lawn growth and recovery. In fall, grass spreads horizontally, filling in thin spots.
Plant Trees and Shrubs
Cool temperatures and shorter days signal "dormancy" to most plants. They're storing food in their roots for winter. Autumn is ideal for planting most trees and shrubs. Choose beech, cherry, pear, and other trees that have already been dug. Now is not the time to plant newly dug trees. Another planting tip is to position the rootball, backfill the planting hole halfway, then fill the hole with water. Finish backfilling after the water is absorbed. Make a well in the mulch around the trunk so water doesn't run off.
Keep Watering Transplanted Trees and Shrubs
Though prime gardening season has come to an end, newly planted trees and shrubs still need water -- about 10 to 15 gallons a week until the soil freezes, and again during winter thaws. Transplanted trees and shrubs are recovering from transplant shock and adjusting to new locations. They are also storing food in roots for winter. Trees take three years to stabilize after being moved. So water generously and deeply with a trickling hose, bubbler, or 5-gallon bucket with holes. Better yet, apply a TreeGator and fill with water according to directions.
Apply Compost and/or Leaf Mold as Winter Mulch
There are often bare spots in the garden, as well as perennials and roses that need extra winter protection from the freeze-thaw cycle. Rather than buying bark mulch that will likely have to be refreshed in the spring, shovel on 3 inches of compost or composted leaves as winter mulch. For roses, I sprinkle 2 or 3 cups of alfalfa meal on the soil before topping with township-processed leaf mold.
Change Out Containers for Winter Fun
When frost frizzles your annuals, don't give up on your containers. Create a winter scene with various textures, colors, and shapes of living evergreens and winter pansies. Start with small-sized spruce, juniper, and/or holly. Add a few long red and yellow dogwood branches for height and color. Top with bark mulch for winter protection. In spring, plant the evergreens in your yard.