Autumn Garden Care: Must-Do Tasks + Top Tools That Make for Easy-Peasy Work

Fall leaves in a pile in the shape of a heart

I am so grateful for the change of seasons. It’s not only brought striking autumn colors and cooler temperatures but also the rain! Yes, here in one of the most dangerous wildfire zones in the western United States, we’re celebrating having rain for several weeks now, which has provided quite the exhale because it is so needed here!  I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated the smell of rain as I do these days. Now that fall is finally here, there is a big sigh of relief that those hot, dry days and raging wildfires are in our rearview mirror.

Author and master gardener Toni Gattone sitting lakeside

Fall is an ideal time to take a look back over your shoulder at the past year and give yourself credit and a big high five for getting through the challenges 2021 brought our way!

Candles on a wood table next to some pumpkins

The change of seasons is also a good reminder to revisit and recommit to your self-care plan — both in and outside your garden. As it turns out, the little actions and steps we take each time we’re in our garden, and along the way, really do end up being the greatest contribution we can make in our resilience. Consistent and conscientious self-care expands our capacity to take on and manage the projects and tasks that will bring us joy, meaning, and fulfillment.

Each month I’ll share one of my favorite self-care practices and how it’s helped me take good care of my mind, body, and spirit in and out of the garden.

Three Must-Do Fall Tasks In The Garden

  1. If your garden didn’t produce the way you’d anticipated this past year, look to your soil and maybe even consider getting it tested. The things I look for are:  Is the soil compacted? Did you have more pests or diseases this year? Was there a decrease in your harvests? A soil test will tell you if your soil needs to be amended. Whether you decide to test or not, by adding organic matter like compost or straw to your soil, you’ll be building healthy soil for the next season.  Your garden will thank you!
  2. Raking up all those leaves again and again. I remember growing up in Chicago and one of my favorite fall activities was raking the leaves because afterward, we would burn them in the back of our house. While I wouldn’t think of doing that in fire-prone California, it’s a memory that I savor and treasure as I rake each year.
  3. Pruning deciduous plants and trees. The true natural beauty of trees and shrubs can fully be appreciated in autumn when the leaves have fallen and the structure of the branches is beautifully revealed. That’s the best time to remove what is dead, diseased or crossing branches and to bring back the intended shape of the plant.

Autumn Garden Tool Round-up

A comfortable tool, that is the right tool for the job, makes the task easier to complete, and also significantly reduces post gardening pain. Many senior gardeners and those with decreased muscle strength or arthritis in their hands, greatly appreciate lightweight tools. Here are some of my favorites for this time of year …

Toni Gattone holds the Tabor Tools Collapsible and Expandable Rake

Tabor Tools Collapsible and Expandable Rake

When I first discovered this super-lightweight rake, I realized I could get rid of two other heavy rakes that had been in my tool shed for years, because this one did it all. I can rake between containers when the tynes are only 7” wide and I can also expand it to 23” wide when I’m raking lots of leaves and want to leave the mulch or gravel below. This rake saves me time, energy, and storage space because it collapses down so you can hang it up and get it off the floor.  Innovative and practical design at its best!

Earthwise Leaf Blower

Then inevitably, after you spent hours raking the leaves, the rain starts again or the wind picks up, and your yard looks like you haven’t raked leaves in months and you’ve got another yard full of leaves to deal with! That’s when I turn to my cordless electric leaf blower to finish the job. 

The one I use is made by Earthwise. It’s lightweight and powerful enough with a lithium-ion battery and a fast charger. Psst… It really comes in handy when you have guests coming over and you want to tidy up your yard so it looks extra special.

Toni Gattone using the Earthwise Leaf Blower
Sun Joe Cordless Power Pruner

Sun Joe Cordless Power Pruner

When I was writing my book, a local master gardener friend told me how her hands could no longer tolerate the extensive pruning she needed to do in her large yard every year. She wanted to show me her latest favorite tool, a cordless rechargeable power pruner. I was skeptical at first, but a quick trip to her garden showed me you can effortlessly cut branches up to half of an inch with barely a squeeze. When you’ve got a lot of pruning, this Sun Joe cordless pruner will save you time, and I promise, your hands will thank you.

Ironwood Tool Sharpener

[BONUS TOOL TIP #1] You’ve made an investment buying quality tools, right? So, it’s important to clean and sharpen them and I recommend the Ironwood Tool Sharpener. It offers two grades, one for sharpening, the other for polishing. The eco-grip is easy on your hands and the safety guard is there to prevent accidents. Every gardener should own this tool sharpener or something like it.

Toni Gattone's highly recommended Ironwood Tool Sharpener
Corona RachetCUT™ Pruner
Corona FlexDial ComfortGel Pruner

Corona FlexDial® ComfortGel® Pruner and
Corona RachetCUT™ Pruner

[BONUS TOOL TIP #2] All of the grips on the tools I recommend have a cushier, eco-grip, so you don’t have to maintain them, but if you have wooden handles on your tools, you may want to sand them and apply linseed oil.

These are the two Corona pruners I love and both are made with ComfortGel grips. The top photo is the FlexDial® Pruner that is adjustable for small to extra-large hands.

The second photo shows their RachetCUT™ Pruner that is a life-saver for decreased muscle strength in your hands because it gives you more leverage when cutting larger branches.

Pile of leaves

Your Seasonal Autumn Fire Smart Tip

For those of us in the western part of the United States, even though we are grateful and celebrating the rains, we know we’re nowhere near out of the woods. The rain may or may not keep up throughout the winter, and whether it does or not, we will probably continue to be in a drought into the foreseeable future, so we need to prepare for that likely inevitability. 

As you tackle the job of your Autumn tasks like raking leaves, this would be a great time to implement a defensible space strategy around your home, by removing leaves as well as any combustible debris from the first five feet perimeter of your homes. This includes vegetation, organic mulches, woodpiles, barbeques, and even lawn furniture. From a fire-smart landscaping point of view, the areas closest to the exterior of your home are considered Zone Zero and the ember-resistant zone the research has shown to be the most critical part of creating an effective defensible space strategy.

Before implementing a fire safe defensible space strategy
After implementation of the three-zone fire defensible space strategy.

*Images courtesy of
The University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources

[Image A] Before implementing a defensible space strategy.
[Image B] After implementation of the three-zone defensible space strategy. While this figure shows a forested setting, the same concepts apply to other vegetation types or more residential settings.

Each season has its beauty, gifts, and wisdom.  I’m appreciating how this particular time of year connects me so profoundly with my senses. I’m grateful for the cooler temperatures, the crispness in the air, and the rain falling on my face. I love how the rich colors of nature everywhere open my mind and heart and make me feel alive.

The season of fall also mirrors where I am in my life.  As a modern elder, I am in the autumn of my lifetime, which is teaching me how to accept and be grateful for right where I’m at. This season of my life also reminds me to slow down and take time to appreciate all the goodness that I’ve experienced in the past 73 years and all that I have to be thankful for in my life now.

I hope you too will take time to consider what you appreciate about this particular season, and also how you’d like to complete the year, and most of all, I hope you take in all that the gorgeous season of fall has to offer.

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