How to prepare your lawn for an unpredictable winter season
HERNDON, Va. — Will winter be a long stretch of snow, ice and freezing temperatures, or will it be unseasonably dry and warm? Homeowners often ask members of PLANET, the national landscape industry association, how they should prepare in the fall for hard to predict winter weather.
Homeowners and other property owners can best prepare their lawn and landscape in the fall for either a winter full of cozy sweaters and hot cocoa, or one with unseasonably warm temperatures and Bermuda shorts by doing the following: • Place Protective Fencing Around Vulnerable Plants – Salt and melting agents for snow and ice can potentially damage plant material along walkways and driveways. Protective fencing can keep the salt from severely damaging evergreen plant material, as well as groundcovers. This same strategy can be used during a mild winter to help prevent damage to valuable specimen plants from dog urine, deer grazing or other animal activity.
• Cover Plants with Frost Protection – Some parts of the country are used to mild winters, but then a sudden frost comes along and damages annuals, perennials and temperature-sensitive trees and shrubs. Be ready to cover plants with frost protection fabric, especially at night, removing the cover as soon as it begins to warm up again.
• Prune in the Dormant Season – Work with a landscape firm or a certified arborist to thin out larger shade trees and other shrub material. This will allow heavy snow loads to easily fall through and not pile on top, which causes split branches and sometimes requires complete plant replacement. If there is no snow or ice, dormant pruning helps maintain a desired growth habit and remove crossing or rubbing branches. Pruning in the dormant season also helps prevent insect or disease damage from the new cuts.
• Apply Mulch – Installing mulch in the fall is very beneficial in protecting the roots of plant material from extreme low temperatures in the winter months and also helps to preserve moisture if the region does not receive enough moisture and/or snowfall.
• Use Pulverized Topsoil to Protect Sensitive Plants – Certain perennial plant material requires mounding of compost to protect the crown of the plant and prevent substantial winter dieback. This commonly happens with certain rose varieties, endless summer hydrangeas, and other marginally hardy perennials. Use pulverized topsoil, if possible, as it does not hold too much moisture and cause root rot at the base of the plants if there is a warm, wet winter.
• Watch for Insects on Plants – If winter is mild, you may not have to worry about the bitter cold, but it may mean insects will feed on your plants longer and even get another generation in, meaning more stress for your plants. If you see a lot of insects moving around on the plants, identify them and apply the appropriate horticultural soaps or insecticides.
• Keep Ticks and Fleas at Bay – Ticks and fleas have become a year-round problem in many areas of the country. A well-kept lawn is one way to minimize ticks, since lawns create a buffer between the home and the woods. A mild winter is a good time to have a landscape professional evaluate the property. He or she will determine if there are areas where ticks may hide and may recommend trimming low-lying bushes to let in as much sunlight as possible, keeping grassy areas mowed (ticks like to hide in tall grass), or applying a pet and child friendly treatment.
Note: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that Lyme disease strikes about 300,000 people each year, 10 times more people than previously thought.
For more fall and winter tips, visit www.loveyourlandscape.com.
To find a certified landscape professional, search for one in your area at www.landcarenetwork.org/ findaprofessional.