Get Your Landscape Ready For Winter

R. L. Rhodes
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Winter can be hard on your landscape, so it’s important to prepare in advance. When the leaves of deciduous trees have mostly all gone brown and tumbled into the yard, it’s time to start taking steps to winterize.

Below is a list of steps you can take to protect your plants and landscape against harsh winters. For convenience, we’ve ordered them temperature-wise, starting with tips for regions with the warmest average temperatures and proceeding to the coldest. Start at the top and include all of the items up to the section that best describes the usual behavior of winter weather in your neck of the woods.

Temperate

  • Cut back on the frequency of your watering routine. Plants still need water in most regions, but their needs are reduced in winter when growth is typically slower and less water is lost to transpiration due to the shorter days.
  • You can also reduce the frequency with which you mow. In colder regions, you can stop altogether. The last time you mow, set the mower to its greatest height. The longer blades will help protect the lower layers of grass from cold. Then put your mower away for the winter.
  • Go ahead and pull any annuals that you see dying in your beds. You don’t want a dying plant to attract disease to your perennials.

Brisk and windy

  • Roots often remain active for a while after the rest of the plant has gone dormant. Applying a generous layer of mulch at the base of plants can help protect their roots from the cold. In areas subject to multiple thaws and freezes, mulch can also help prevent the “heaving” that takes place when soil expands and contracts.
  • Even evergreens can prove vulnerable to the ravages of winter. If you’ve noticed your evergreens turning limp and brown toward the end of previous winters, chances are the wind and cold are drying them out. You can protect exposed evergreens by erecting wind barriers on the southern and windward sides. If you’re planting new evergreens, avoid planting them on south or southwest exposures, on in areas subject to high winds.
  • If you compost, cover the surface of your pile with a generous layer of leaves. If your bin lacks a lid, you may want to cover it with a tarp to protect your compost from the cold and wind.

Subject to periodic freezes

  • To prevent freezing and cracking, stow your garden hose until spring. If possible, shut off the water to outside spigots to ward off the danger of bursting pipes. Check with the manufacturer to see if your irrigation system needs to be emptied during freezes. On some systems, that can be done by forcing air through the pipes with a compressed air pump, but the risk of damage makes it prudent to consult a professional before trying to clear out the system yourself.
  • Any potted plants or plants that might be sensitive to the cold should be brought indoors. Be sure to put them where they’ll have access to sunlight. Outdoor plants can be wrapped in burlap to protect them during freezes.
  • Taper off your watering of deciduous trees and shrubs until after their leaves have fallen. That will allow the plants to “harden off,” toughening them up for winter. Then, in late fall but before the first big freeze, give them a good watering to help tide them over until spring.

Consistently snowy

  • Be sure to remove all the leaves from your lawn before the first snowfall. Otherwise, you risk your lawn contracting snow mold. While you’re at it, put those leaves to use.
  • If you plan on plowing or shoveling snow from parts of your landscape, be sure to mark off delicate features with stakes or reflectors to make them more visible. Garden beds and low-laying plants are particularly prone to damage from shovels and plows.
  • Believe it or not, excessive heat can also be problem for trees during the winter. Sunlight, often concentrated by light reflected from the snow, can warm bark and stimulate growth. That makes the tree vulnerable to sharp changes in temperature, as when the shadow of a cloud suddenly plunges the temperature back down to freezing. The result is a condition called sun scald, and can be prevented by wrapping the exposed trunks of trees or painting them with a light colored latex paint to reflect the light. Young trees and trees situated in sunnier areas of the landscape are at particular risk.

Image by crabchick via Flickr

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