Any gardener can tell you how suddenly the seasons seem to change. One day you are sipping lemonade in the shade, and the very next day your yard is full of leaves and you need a sweater to walk out and get the mail.
Caring for your yard requires different steps for every time of the year, and smart gardeners take steps to get ahead of the schedule. Getting ready for winter – especially in an area where you get freezing temperatures and snow – requires more than just switching off your sprinkling system.
That doesn’t mean you have to put away the deck chairs and sun umbrella just yet, but while it’s still sunny and warm is the best time to start your prep for fall and winter. A few smart steps now can save you a lot of time and effort once the weather starts to turn.
Look After Your Lawn
Healthy plants need three basic things: air, water, and nutrients. Your lawn is no different, which is why you should consider aerating as the seasons begin to change. Getting oxygen to the roots through aeration in the fall and dethatching in the spring will lead to greener and more resilient turf next summer.
After aerating, feed your lawn with a fertilizer high in phosphorus and give it a good soak to help pack in the nutrients ahead of the winter freeze. This is also a good time to reseed any dead patches and address encroaching weeds.
One final mowing as the seasons really start to turn and your grass falls dormant will keep your yard tidy and turbocharge the grass ahead of the upcoming growing season. Just remember, even in the depths of winter, spring is only a few short months away.
Size Up The Sprinklers
Unless you live in a very moist, rainy climate, a sprinkler system is the backbone of a thriving yard and garden. Although each system has different seasonal requirements (I recommend a system masterminded by Orbit’s B-hyve XR Smart Sprinkler Controller), they all need some attention ahead of winter to prevent freezing.
As the days grow shorter and the temperatures come down, it will be time to run your sprinklers for the final watering of the season. During this final cycle, check each of the sprinklers to make sure everything is running well.
It can be tempting to put off repairs until spring, but any problems you spot should be addressed as a part of this final check. Cracks in pipes and sprinkler heads are likely to get worse over the winter, and could still let water into your house, even if you have winterized the system. Frozen water usually means expensive damage.
If you live in a cold climate, freeze damage can be a real problem for your sprinkler system. To prevent pipes, heads, and valves from breaking, it is a good idea to blow-out your sprinklers with compressed air before the freezing weather arrives. This is one of those projects that is best left to the pros, but can be done by DIYer’s with the right air compressor and the know-how.
Fix The Flower Beds
Flower beds need extra TLC in late summer and early fall to make sure they creep back into spring in great shape. Start by pulling up annuals once they are done blooming and vegetables once you have finished harvesting. Prune the perennials and cut back hedges and shrubs.
Plant bulbs and plan out your beds for next year’s growing season. You will need to plant seeds and starts later, but establishing a solid idea and a timeline will help make sure you don’t miss out on anything once it’s time to grow.
This is also the best time to cut back encroaching grass, fix barriers, pull weeds, cut out unwanted growth and remove rocks from the soil. The time spent now will help you get a good start in the spring.
Take Care Of The Trees
Raking leaves is the stereotypical fall chore for a good reason. There are usually a lot of them, whether you have trees or not. Fortunately, fallen leaves are also a great source of mulch for flower beds, providing valuable nutrients for your soil.
Carefully check your trees in late summer or early fall for dead branches or insect damage. High winds or heavy snow can cause these areas to break off, damaging the tree and possibly other parts of your property. I recommend calling a professional service for large or high branches – they can be much more challenging to remove than it might seem while standing on the ground.
Once they’ve gone dormant, take the time to fertilize trees, hedges, and shrubs, as well. These need nutrients every bit as much as flowers and grass, and are often overlooked. Do not fertilize newly planted trees or shrubs, however.
Starting your winter prep ahead of schedule may require a couple of Saturdays, but it will save you time and energy when the weather really starts to turn. Best of all, you will be ready for a new growing season as the seasons change yet again.
All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.
By Dan Heims, president, Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
Photographs courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
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