Essential Autumn Activities

Essential Autumn Activities

View of Sleeping Lion across Otsego Lake, New York.

Essential Autumn Activities

We’ve passed the Autumnal Equinox, we’re heading towards winter, and it’s time to enjoy the weather and prepare for cold.  A little effort now around the house can save time and money later – just doing a few preventive maintenance tasks can save the costly headaches of possible leaks and fires.  Fall is also a time to enjoy the outdoors by prepping your garden and planning for next year, observing autumn leaves, and watching migrating birds.  Because this fall has been warmer than usual across the country[1], it’s not too late for fall activities.

Home maintenance tasks

The steps to winterizing your home depend on where you live.  If you live in a region where the temperature rarely drops below freezing, the tasks are few and simple.  If you live where temperatures stay below freezing for days at a time and you get a lot of snow and ice, you have more work to do.  Here is a short list of basic chores for most people regions.

  • Winterize outdoor faucets to keep water from freezing, which can cause burst pipes and be very costly. Remove your hose, shut off the exterior supply line, and cut on the faucet to drain any water left in it.  Consider replacing older faucets with a frost-free alternative.
  • Tune up your heating system. What this entails depends on your system.  Schedule a checkup if you have a gas, oil, or electric system and replace filters. If you have radiators, drain trapped air by opening the radiator valve.
  • Replace weatherstripping around windows and doors – this can offer significant benefits for little outlay of money and time. Weatherstripping can help reduce heating and cooling costs, keep insects and rain out, and is not difficult to install.
  • Clean your gutters to prevent water damage and freezing, which can cause roof leaks
  • Clean the dryer vent to prevent fire. According to the National Fire Protection Association, clogged dryer vents are the leading cause of house fires caused by washers and dryers.  Clogged vents also slow drying times and can overwork dryers.  Cleaning dryer vents and tubing to the outside should be done at least once a year.
  • Check your chimney – consider having your chimney inspected for signs of damage and cleaned to prevent chimney fires.

There are certainly other things that can be done to prepare your home for winter (e.g., checking the roof, testing the generator, bringing in patio furniture and grills, checking your snow and ice supplies – shovel, scraper, ice melt), but the bullets above are essentials and apply no matter where you live.

Prepare your garden for winter

For gardeners, autumn is not only a time for putting the garden to bed, rather, it is also when you plan your garden for spring.  There are lots of places to look for advice on planning and protecting your garden in the fall.  Many are useful for all regions:  The Old Farmer’s Almanac, House and Garden TV, Better Homes and Gardens, and Martha Stewart.   It’s also useful to find information for your general or specific region:  south (Southern Living), northeast (New York Times),  Napa Valley, CA (Napa Valley Register), Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, San Antonio, TX (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension in Bexar County), Baltimore, MD (CBS local), and the District of Columbia Metro Area (Washington Post).   Some tasks that should be done wherever you live:

  • Remove any diseased plants, especially in your vegetable garden.[2], [3]
  • Any healthy plants you remove can be composted.
  • Spread compost into your vegetable beds and plant a cover crop (e.g., rye, clover) for the winter.
  • Use a crop extender such as row cover or a cold frame to enjoy cold weather vegetables into the winter.[4]
  • Plant perennials and bulbs before the first frost.
  • Protect plants that are not winter hardy.
  • Plant a tree – they’re carbon-eaters, they provide shade, and they shelter and feed all kinds of creatures.[5]
  • Winterize your gardening tools to keep them strong and sharp for years to come - clean and sharpen tools, get rid of rust with sandpaper, put a little linseed oil on the wooden handles, and clean and sharpen your lawnmower blades.

While we used to clean up every leaf in the fall, we now know that is bad for the environment. Leave some leaf litter on the ground to provide habitat for insects, bumblebees, caterpillars, and spiders.  Birds count on these creatures to feed their young.[6], [7]  Doing a minimal cleanup as shown in the bullets and delaying a serious cleanup until spring is a boon for all the creatures living there.[8]  Don’t cut back perennial stalks and grasses as they provide character in the winter garden.[9]  Leave the leaves in your yard and run over them once or twice with a mower to break them into small pieces – they become mulch for your lawn.  Leaves are beneficial for your lawn and garden and sending them to a landfill requires collection and disposal services which use energy and emit pollutants, they take up space in landfills, and decomposing organic matter in a landfill can create methane.[10]  Leaf blowers have become a point of controversy in neighborhoods around the country – they can be as loud as a chainsaw, are often used in twos or threes by a lawn service crew, and they emit more exhaust than a typical gas-powered car.[11], [12]

"Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge" by USFWS Mountain Prairie is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Go birdwatching

October is a great time for birdwatchers – October 9 was World Migratory Bird Day and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s October BIG Day, but there’s still a lot of time for spotting migratory birds.  Just as there are many websites that offer excellent information about gardening in general and for specific areas, there are also many sources of information about birding in general, birding in specific areas, and birding throughout the year. 

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers a How, Why, and Where article about migration, among many other interesting bird information.  It provides links for people of all ages to learn about and enjoy birds:  live bird cameras, courses, bird identification guides, opportunities to participate in Citizen Science including FeederWatch, and loads more about feeding and providing bird-friendly housing.  The Lab’s eBird is used to track birds throughout the world – a free introductory course called eBird Essentials explains how to use it.[13]

From national organizations and societies to local National Wildlife Refuges, parks, or other sites, the internet can help you find good places to see wildlife and birds.  The National Audubon Society provides countrywide information about fall migration hotspots and also links to local events.  Smithsonian Magazine offers a list of places for prime migration viewing.  Local sites include fall migration at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Oak Harbor, OH.

Fall recipes

When you return to the kitchen after preparing home and garden for winter or after hiking in the crisp air to see leaves turning or birds migrating, you’ll probably have worked up an appetite for warm comfort food.  Sizzlefish offers 13 Must Make Fall Fish Recipes, from Balsamic Glazed Salmon to easy and filling One Pan Baked Cod and Fall Vegetables.  These recipes will warm you right up - plus they are healthy and easy to clean up! So, instead of having the same old dinners night after night change things up with a nourishing fish dish on a brisk night. 

[1]   Henson, B. (2021). Extreme tranquility: a record-warm, weirdly calm autumn from Northern Plains to Northeast.  Yale Climate Connections. October 16, 2021.

[2]   Roach, M. (2020).  A smarter fall cleanup.  The New York Times. September 30, 2020.

[3]   Cowan, S. (2021).  10 ways to prepare your garden for winter.  September 10, 2021.


[5]   Higgins, A. (2021). It’s never easy to say good bye, but it’s time for me to plant some trees.  The Washington Post. September 29, 2021.

[6]   Marinelli, J. (2008).  Greening your fall garden cleanup.  National Wildlife Federation website, October 1, 2008.

[7]   Roach, M. (2020).  A smarter fall cleanup.  The New York Times. September 30, 2020.

[8]   Walliser, J.  Six reasons NOT to clean up your garden this fall.  SavvyGardening.

[9]   Higgins, A. (2019).  The winter garden is full of promise and productivity. Don’t let it go to waste.  The Washington Post, November 20, 2019.

[10]   Marinelli, J. (2008).  Greening your fall garden cleanup.  National Wildlife Federation website, October 1, 2008.

[11]   Frieswick, K. (2021). Here’s why leaf blowers are evil incarnate.  The Wall Street Journal, October 7, 2021.

[12]   Korff, J. (2021). ‘Like acoustic trash’: Quiet Clean NOVA group forms to ban gas powered leaf blowers.  WJLA News. May 3, 2021.

[13]   Since its start in 2002, eBird has grown to become the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen-science project—available in every country in more than 40 languages. eBirders around the world contribute more than 100 million bird sightings each year. The key to eBird’s success is partnerships with birdwatchers from around the world.

Special Offer Unlocked
10% OFF Your First Subscription Box
The Easiest Way to Add More Sustainable Seafood to Your Diet
Claim Offer