• Plant perennials: With moderate temperatures and generally increasing rainfall, fall is a good time to plant trees, shrubs, and many other perennial plants in most U.S. climate zones. The soil is nice and warm, which promotes good root growth, and — unlike in the spring — young upstarts don't face the potential of a long, hot, dry summer. Plant perennials in the fall and they can get established before going dormant for a winter's nap. Best of all, you can find terrific bargains on perennial garden stock, as nurseries and garden centers liquidate their summertime inventory to make way for mums, pumpkins and, eventually, Christmas trees.
• Lawns and sod: Don't forget that the grass in your yard is probably a perennial variety, so fall is also the perfect time in most areas of the country to seed or reseed lawns and even install new sod. Because most people only think about having a lush, green lawn in the spring and summer, you can sometimes negotiate a lower rate on sod installation in the fall. And if you're looking to sign or renew an annual contract for lawn care services, you're likely to get a better deal in the fall — when lawn companies are hurting for business — than if you wait until next spring.
• Divide and multiply: Even though I'm an avid gardener, I buy very few new plants. Instead, I propagate many of the plants I already have — making more plants out of my existing stock — and swap extra plants with friends and neighbors. Fall is an ideal time for dividing many perennials as well as for transplanting. Dividing mature perennials not only gets you new plants, but if done correctly, it actually improves the health of the parent plant. Do your research in advance to determine which types of perennials should be divided in the fall and the best methods for doing so. In general, perennials should first be thoroughly watered and the entire plant dug out of the ground, with its root ball intact. The root ball should then be separated into smaller plants by pulling it apart with a pitch fork or, in some cases, cutting it apart with a shovel or other sharp tool. The separated plants should then be immediately replanted in the ground and watered again.
• Garden tools and equipment: In the fall you're likely to find the lowest prices of the year on all types of lawn and garden equipment, with the possible exceptions of snowblowers, chain saws and snow shovels. Keep an eye open for summer gardening supplies that are marked down dramatically and not necessarily advertised in store flyers. For really great deals on used gardening equipment, check with local landscapers and lawn care companies, which often sell off their industrial-quality equipment in the fall after only a single season of use.
• Compost and mulch: If you don't already have a compost pile, the fall is the perfect time to start one with autumn leaves and other yard debris. Making a compost pile can be as simple as staking up a hoop of three-foot-high chicken wire or other mesh fencing, just so long as it allows for air circulation from the sides and is deep enough for the organic matter inside to compress itself and decompose. If you start a compost pile now, you'll save big by having a ready supply of rich, free compost to apply to your garden beds next spring rather than buying expensive garden soil and fertilizers at the nursery. Also look for sales on mulch during the fall — it's often marked down this time of year. Applying a blanket of mulch to flower beds and around trees and shrubs in the fall can help them retain moisture and sleep more comfortably during their upcoming winter nap.
• Outdoor building projects and professional landscaping: Still dreaming of that new deck, patio or landscape makeover you never got around to this summer? If you plan on doing the work yourself, you'll find that home improvement centers have very competitive fall prices on things like pressure-treated lumber, outdoor paving supplies and landscaping materials. If you're looking to hire a contractor for outdoor projects, it's a buyer's market in the fall compared with the spring and summer, when contractors tend to have more work than they can handle. Be sure to get multiple estimates from different contractors and then get a bidding war going between them.
So, don't be too quick to put away your pruning shears and other gardening equipment now that Labor Day is behind us. With a little extra effort this fall, you can have a greener yard — and a green wallet — come next spring.
Jeff Yeager is the author of three books, The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches, The Cheapskate Next Door and Don't Throw That Away! His website is UltimateCheapskate.com and you can connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.