As the seasons change and your attention turns from long, sunny days spent in your beautiful backyard to cozy, cold winter nights spent snuggled around the fireplace with a good book, it is easy to forget that, while you are no longer spending time in your yard, it still needs landscape maintenance to thrive! Taking the time to properly winterize your lawn and other plants is essential for fostering a healthy and vibrant yard that will provide you and your family with enjoyment for years to come.
Know Your Zone!
The first and perhaps most important step in defending your yard from winter weather starts at the very conception of your yard and landscaping. When selecting types of grass, shrubs, and trees to plant, it is essential to know your area’s hardiness zone and pick plants accordingly. The continental United States of America is divided into 13 hardiness zones that account for a variety of climate factors that predict the success of different plant species. For example, a papaya tree (arica papaya) is comfortable in hardiness zones 9 and 10 and will survive the mild, tropical winters of places like southern Louisiana or Florida. However, plant one in North Dakota (hardiness zones 2 through 4) and that same papaya tree is certain to die from the cold. For this reason, it is essential to know your yard’s hardiness zone and be certain to only plant plants that are comfortable in your climate.
Here in the mid-Atlantic, our hardiness zones range from 6 to 8. You can check precisely where you home falls at this site:
Water, Water, Water
Everyone knows that plants need lots of good, freshwater to thrive. But many forget that as the scorching hot days of summer pass and are replaced by cooler fall days, you still need to water your plants! In fact, once frost sets into the soil, frozen roots cannot soak up any more water. Evergreen plants in particular need watering during the cooler months. This means ensuring your plants are well hydrated throughout the fall before the frost sets in is essential to their good health throughout the winter.
Spread Some Mulch
A thick layer of mulch is sort of like a warm pair of socks for your shrubs and trees. It helps retain moisture and keep roots warm throughout the cold season. We recommend spreading a two to four inch layer of mulch around shrubs and trees in the early fall before the first freeze sets in. One other great benefit of mulch is weed prevention. When spring comes around, you will find far fewer weeds to pull if you mulched the previous fall.
While perfectly good mulch can be purchased from a garden store, you can also save some money by collecting leaves as they fall from trees within your own yard! Falling leaves are how trees in the forest make their own mulch for the winter, so why not do the same in your yard?
Wrap Up At-Risk Plants
While mulch may be like socks for a cold plant, some more delicate plants may need a winter blanket too! Young and un-established (under one year) trees and shrubs benefit greatly from a covering for the winter. You can purchase purpose-built tree wraps at a nursery or garden store, but we find simple burlap fabric works just as well. These should be put on gently so as to not overly constrict the plant just before the first frost and should be taken off in the spring when new signs of growth are visible.
Watch Out For Cold Snaps
Even if you have made sure to only plant plants that are compatible with your hardiness zone, sudden cold fronts can damage even the most well-established plants. The best defense against this is to keep an eye on the forecast for any dramatically colder weather. If you do see significant temperature drops in the forecast, applying burlap wraps (just like the ones for younger plants) to your more established plants can protect them through the cold.
Research Before You Prune
Pruning your plants before winter may seem like the logical thing to do, and for some species, it is! But unfortunately, it is not so simple. Pruning some species in the fall can have consequences ranging from low flower production in the coming spring to plant death. It is best to prune each plant on a case-by-case basis and research when and how to best proceed.
Your Lawn Needs A Back-To-School Haircut Too
As the fall sets in and a new school year begins, it is best to cut your lawn shorter than you normally would to prepare it for winter. Excess length can cut off oxygen to the grass in winter causing the grass to die. We recommend cutting to a length of two and a half inches in the fall. Most lawn mowers have adjustable height settings that can be easily changed. Just make sure to be careful and make certain the lawnmower is off before making any adjustments!
Give Your Grass A Break
While you may be used to your lawn being akin to a big green carpet in the summer, it must be treated differently in the winter. When grass goes dormant in cold weather, it is very susceptible to physical damage. Therefore, refrain from any heavy foot traffic on your lawn during the cold months. That Thanksgiving Day family football game in your backyard may seem like a lot of fun, but when spring comes around and your grass is all dead, you may wish you had gone to a park to play instead!
Set The Right Expectations
It is important to remember that winterizing your yard and lawn is meant to protect your plants so that they can grow and thrive in the spring and summer. It is perfectly normal for your yard to look less than perfect in the middle of February. But have faith in your work and before too long, your yard should be flourishing again!
If your lawn needs a winter touchup, give the landscaping experts at call!