By Lianne Nall
With the onset of fall and our first tease of snow, many of us are scrambling to remember what we need to do to prepare our yards for winter. Here are 10 winterizing tasks that will help your yard survive a long, cold winter:
1: Mulch! Layer a good 2 to 3 inches of mulch around the base of all of your trees, shrubs, and perennials, making sure to leave some breathing room around the base or trunk. This practice has two purposes; it will provide your plants a protective layer for those frosty days when there is no insulating snow cover, and it will create improved soil quality in the spring, as mulch breaks down into a valuable nutrient source over the course of the winter. You can use freshly ground mulch from a local arborist, or you can use nursery products such as GrowMulch.
2. Water deeply but infrequently. Continue this practice until it snows. As the days become colder and the air drier, your plants will still need water. Especially focus on new plants that haven’t had the chance to establish deep root systems and need your support until they have, usually in about three to five years.
3. Plant trees, shrubs, and perennials. Fall is a perfect time to plant, as the ground is still warm enough to encourage root growth. Once winter arrives, the plant will go dormant. Root development, however, will begin again the moment the sun begins its spring warming, giving your plant a head start on the growing year ahead. Visit your local nursery now to see an array of plants with brilliant fall foliage, and check out the dogwood, chokecherry, serviceberry, and roses for their stunning fall berries and rosehips.
4. Plant bulbs for spring color. A popular slogan, “Dig, Drop, Done!” captures how easy this can be. Bulbs should be planted at a depth of two and a half times their width, with the tips up, then covered with soil. Try to plant in groups of at least five for a vivid splash of spring color. If your bulbs have been dug up and devoured by hungry rodents in the past, consider planting them inside an underground chicken wire cage for protection. In the Tahoe area, daffodils seem immune to the hungry appetites of the emerging squirrels, but tulips and crocuses often fall victim. Taking time now to protect your bulbs will be worth it when your yard awakens from winter with bright masses of color throughout.
5. Spread wildflower seed in late fall. Mix your seed with a fine soil mixture like Topper, toss onto your desired location, then cover lightly with another layer of Topper to add protection from drying out and being scavenged by birds. Make sure to water the area so it won’t completely dry out before snow can add a protective cover. You can also wait to spread the seed right after the first snowfall, and just before another. This practice allows the seeds to lie dormant within an insulating layer of snow until they are ready to absorb water from the spring melt. As many wildflowers are natives, be patient. It may take a season or two before you see them establish themselves in your yard, but the wait is worth their ultimate surprise appearance.
7. Fertilize trees and shrubs with slow-release organic fertilizer in late fall to set your yard up for robust spring growth. Organic fertilizers like Biosol are advantageous because over the winter months they break down in the soil and are readily accessible to the plant’s roots when growth begins in the spring. Using a hand rake, scratch around the dripline of your tree, shrub, or hardy perennial, loosening the soil. Take a handful of the fertilizer and work it into the soil, then re-cover with the loosened dirt.
8. Clean up. As plant growth is slowing with the dwindling light of fall, this is a good time, to cut out and discard any dead material and to divide perennials such as daylilies, crocosmia, peonies, and irises.
9. Stake and wrap trees and shrubs. Younger or wind-exposed trees may benefit from staking and/or wrapping during the winter. You can use a sturdy 2- to 3-inch lodgepole stake on one or both sides of the tree, and loosely encircle the tree with tape or canvas strips. To wrap, use 2-inch wide tape and, starting at the base of the tree or shrub, wind your way around the plant, tucking in the branches for protection. Tie off at the tip.
10. Lawn prep. Your lawn will appreciate a bit of care before heading into the winter. First, you’ll want to reseed any dead patches, taking advantage of the cooler weather to set the grass roots. Lightly rake away any dead grass. Sprinkle a handful of seed over the area, and cover with a thin layer of Topper. Water daily to get the rooting started. And, just as with your trees and shrubs, your entire lawn will benefit from a layer of a slow-release fertilizer before snow arrives. Some find this practice even repels the dreaded winter vole invasion, but as with all wildlife, it likely depends on how hungry they are.
While these tasks may take time, they are setting your yard up for healthy and beautiful growth in the spring.