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Time to get yards and gardens ready for winter
The cooling of temperatures and changing of leaves are sure signs that fall and winter are coming. They’re also signal that it’s time to start getting your lawn and gardens prepared for winter.
By putting in a little extra time and prep work now, you can help make sure your gardens and lawn come back better than ever next spring.
Work now means less work later
Mark Armstead from Beisswenger’s said most people think Labor Day marks the end of summer, which to them also marks the end of gardening.
“There’s still a lot of nice weather left” this time of year, Armstead said.
Fall is actually when many flowers have their most vibrant colors, because they respond well to the cooler temperatures. To keep annuals looking their best, make sure to keep fertilizing right up until they die off.
A lot of flowers can take a light frost, including verbenas and diascias.
There are even some flowers and shrubs that give off color or texture in the late fall and winter. The trend in gardening and landscaping is four seasons of color, Armstead said. Sedums hold their structure, and crabapples have colorful fruit that often stays on the branches until early spring.
Dogwoods have an intense red bark during the winter months and add backyard interest year round.
Then there are those annuals that can’t handle any chilly weather. “The first hard frost you’ll know it because some of your more herbaceous, soft-tissue stuff, it’s literally over night going to turn black and just melt when the sun comes out,” Armstead said.
When preparing your vegetable garden soil for the next growing season, add organics on top. Armstead recommends spreading compost in the fall to help bolster the soil for planting next spring.
Don’t limit the compost to your vegetable patch; it can improve your perennial flowerbeds by adding soil structure and nutrients.
A lot of perennials will blacken after that first hard frost. When this happens, cut them back so that roughly 6 inches of the stem is exposed.
This exposed stem catches leaves as they are rolling and helps protect plant material.
You also want to keep watering before frost sets deep into the ground. Plants that retain their green color all fall and winter are especially thirsty. These include rhododendron, boxwood, evergreen shrubs and conifer trees. Keep the hose out and make sure to water them this autumn.
Fall is also a good time to plant perennials or divide species that have become crowded. Armstead said it’s best to have six weeks of rooting time before winter arrives.
As the temperatures get colder and winter approaches, he said it’s important to cover freshly planted perennials with organic mulch.
Armstead suggests covering flowerbeds with hay or straw. A common covering is autumn leaves, but he said they tend to compact and shrink as snow falls on them, and their insulating effect is lost. Leaves also tend to defrost slowly in the spring.
Hay or straw is light and fluffy. Of the two, Armstead likes straw better because it breaks down into finer pieces as opposed to decomposing like hay.
Good quality hay and straw should have few weed seeds, but of the two, hay can sometimes be a little weedier.
When prepping your garden for winter, look to the future. What can you do now to help alleviate work for next year?
“Cleanliness is next to godliness when it comes to gardens,” Armstead said.
Lawn needs love too
Before a white blanket covers the green grass, there are some things homeowners can do to help their lawn come back in the spring.
A winterizer is the most important part of prepping your yard for winter. This fertilizer helps in the cooler months when grasses start to pull its energy back down into the root systems.
Winterizers dissolve into the ground, and grass uses and stores that energy in its root system. The fertilizer should be applied by end of September or mid-October. You can put it down as long as the grass is exposed but it will reach a point where the fertilizer will remain dormant.
You’ll also want to cut your grass a little shorter than normal in the fall. Armstead recommends going as short as 1 3/4 inches to 2 inches. Keeping the grass shorter will help ensure the snow doesn’t mat it down.
Matted grass can sometimes lead to snow mold. He said homeowners be able to notice if they have snow mold when the energy starts to “burst forth” in the lawn. There will be irregular patches, which luckily can be raked out.
Fall is also the time to aerate lawns. Aereators create small holes that let air, water and nutrients permeate the soil, and help grass develop deeper roots.
The biggest thing to remember when prepping your garden and lawn for the next growing season is cleaning up. Putting the work in now will make the work easier next spring and create fewer problems with potential fungus.
Remember, what you leave now all piles up in the spring, Armstead said.