With the gardening season coming to an end you have a few final tasks before you and your garden can settle in for a long winter’s nap. Remember, preparing the landscape for winter will pay dividends in the spring to come.
Some of the most important winter prep jobs involve water. Before the cold takes hold too tight you want to make sure your garden is well watered. The main cause of plant death in the winter is actually plants drying out because they can’t take up water when the ground is frozen. To help prevent evergreens from drying out, you should consider having them sprayed with an anti-desiccant such as Wilt-Stop. This applies a waxy coating on the leaves or needles that slows transpiration, so plants lose less moisture. When temperatures warm this coating melts off, so you may have to re-apply it once or twice thorough the course of the winter. In extremely exposed locations, wrapping plants with burlap screens can help limit drying winds and damage from snow loads.
Since everything outside is likely to freeze, you need to be prepared. Below ground irrigation systems need to be ‘blown out’ (getting all the water out of the lines so they don’t freeze and break the pipes) before the deep freeze. Outdoor hoses should also be drained and put away for the winter months.
A good end of the season clean-up has multiple benefits. Not only will it make your yard look better for the season, cutting back perennials and getting rid of leaf litter can eliminate places for harmful funguses, pests and other plant pathogens to winter-over. Some people cut back their ornamental grasses at the beginning of winter, but I prefer to leave them until March so I can enjoy the plumes and foliage. A fresh layer of mulch is a great way to finish things off. Not only will this make the garden look nice, it also helps minimize temperature swings and moisture loss in the root zone of the plants.
Winter is an excellent time to prune many plants. It is much easier to see the branching structure on deciduous trees and shrubs after they shed their leaves. (Clean-up is also easier without all those leaves to deal with!) Corrective pruning and deep rejuvenating can be done at this time, along with removal of any dead wood. This can help prevent winter damage for heavy snow and ice loads. You should avoid extensive pruning back on early spring-flowering plants such as forsythia and lilacs since you will be removing the flower buds that will be opening in the months ahead.
Other Winter Hazards
Once winter is upon us, you want to keep an eye out heavy snow and ice weighing down branches. If you are attempting to knock heavy snow or ice off your plants mid or post storm, be careful that you don’t do more damage to the plant beating the snow off than if you leave it alone.
When treating walks and driveways, keep in mind that road salt is very toxic to plants, so try to minimize use of salt near plant beds. Instead use de-icers such as ‘Safe Pet Ice Melter’ that will not damage plants (or harm pets as the name implies).
And remember Spring is just around the corner!
By Ken Muellers, CNLP
Hicks Landscapes Premier Extended Care Services