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(MCT)—The temperatures are dropping and fall is definitely in the air. Before winter arrives there are plenty of things to do in the yard and garden to get ready for the next growing season. Do You Part and be eco-friendly outside now to help ensure your green space looks its best next year.

Find out if you need to fertilize.

Fall is the ideal time to fertilize your lawn — if it needs it. So how do you know if it does? Test it. Most county extension offices and many garden centers have kits to get your soil tested for free or for a minimal cost. You’ll receive a complete report outlining what nutrients your lawn craves and what it could do without. Many lawns actually don’t need as much fertilizer as you think and YES you can overdo it.

Turn fall leaves into mulch.

The fall leaves we all have in abundance this time of year will help you make beneficial mulch at no cost. Use a mulching mower with a catcher to chop the leaves into smaller pieces and then apply to your beds and natural areas. Just like any other mulch, you don’t want the layers to be too thick so keep it to about four inches or less. Over time, the leaf mulch will decompose into a nutrient rich organic matter for your soil. You can also cover your perennials with the same amount of mulch to protect them from winter’s bite.

Put newspapers to work.

Another eco-friendly idea for fall gardening is to use that mulch you created along with old newspapers to help get your garden beds prepped for the warmer weather to come. A five-page layer of wet newspapers with a few inches of mulch on top is the perfect combination to prevent weeds from growing. The newspaper prevents sunlight from reaching the soil so seeds can’t sprout. The newspaper will break down along with the mulch helping to prime your beds for spring.

Keep your compost pile going.

Just because it’s colder outside doesn’t mean your compost pile needs to be put on hold. This is another good destination for all those fall leaves you don’t know what to do with these days. It’s also a smart place to put the remnants of your annual flower or vegetable garden and any yard clippings.

This season, our green thumbs can truly be green as we dispose of autumn leaves and prepare our yards and gardens for another bountiful year. Plus you’ll be doing your part right in your own backyard by avoiding the use of many unnecessary and expensive chemical alternatives.

Terri Bennett is a veteran TV meteorologist, eco-expert and author of “Do Your Part,” a practical guide for everyday green living available at

Distributed by MCT Information Services