Preparing Your Yard For Winter

By Jan Cashman • Posted on September, 9th 2010

By Jan Cashman

The first fall that At Home was published, the year 2000, I wrote about how to prepare your yard for winter. The information still applies, so here is the article, revised, with added information on winterizing your perennial flowers:

Lawns

We continue to water our lawn some in the fall because we want it to stay green. However, your bluegrass lawn won’t die if your stop watering it now; it will go dormant and fade to yellow.

We recommend that you fertilize your grass now with a fertilizer that is lower in nitrogen (the first number on the fertilizer bag) and higher in phosphorus (the second number). 16-20-0-14 is an analysis that works well. There is no potassium in this analysis (the third number) because potassium is usually plentiful in our soils. The fourth number is sulfur, an element that will help release the iron in our alkaline soils.

Mow your grass short as we enter winter; tunneling voles prefer tall grass. Shorter grass will also discourage snow mold from forming under the snow.

Fruits

You may not yet have picked your late season apples, like haralson, haralred, sweet 16, and red baron. Leave these late varieties on the tree into October, if possible, so they will ripen fully, but pick them if the temperature is going to dip below 25 or 26 degrees, so the fruit doesn’t freeze.

Apple trees, especially young ones, should be protected from deer year round, but especially in the fall and winter. Deer could rub them with their horns, damaging the bark, and also eat the twigs. There are many commercial deer repellants available that work well if reapplied often. One homemade deterrent is net bags of human hair hung in the trees. But we have found that the only sure way to keep deer away from your trees is to fence them.

Wrap the trunks of fruit trees in the fall to protect from sunscald–the sun blistering the bark on the sunny side of the trunk. Wrapping will also protect the trunk from voles burrowing under the snow and gnawing on the bark of your young fruit trees.

This fall or early next spring, cut back dead raspberry canes to the ground and thin the new canes to about one every 6 “. Some varieties of strawberries may need mulch protection to protect them in a severe winter.

Trees

We recommend watering your trees less in late summer so they harden off (go dormant) for winter. Once the trees have dropped their leaves and are dormant– around November 1– water them deeply. Their roots will overwinter better in wet ground than in dry.

Before winter, wrap the trunks of smooth-barked trees such as maples and mountain ash up to their bottom branch to prevent sunscald. You can use purchased tree wrap although cardboard held on with duct tape works well, too. We like to use white plastic tree protectors that can be reused and will protect from both sun and from voles gnawing on the bark. Push the tree protectors down into the soil so none of the lower trunk is exposed to rodents.

Fall is not the best time to prune trees with the exception of maples and birch which will “bleed” from the pruning wounds if pruned in the spring.

Evergreens

Evergreen trees should also receive a deep watering around the beginning of November before the ground freezes. Pines, spruce and fir trees can “winterburn” from the sun refelecting off the snow and the wind drying out the needles (called winter desiccation). Some of the more tender varieties of evergreens include dwarf Alberta spruce, yews, and pyramidal arborvitaes. Plant these tender evergreens on a north or east exposure or in a spot where they will not receive direct sun in the winter. You can also protect them with a shade made of fabric stretched between two poles on their southwest side. Or try a spray-on an antitranspirant such as ‘Wiltpruf’.

Roses

Hardy shrub roses, as the name implies, should not need winter protection. Hybrid tea and other tender roses, on the other hand, will not always survive our severe winters without some protection. Protect them by mounding soil around each rose and then add a mulch such as straw, bark dust, or peat moss. We shovel snow on our roses for added insulation. Wait until spring to cut back tender roses. Some successful rose growers in our area protect their roses with rose cones; make sure their top is vented to keep moisture from building up inside the cone.

Perennial Flowers

Once perennials are starting to turn brown in the fall, cut them back to about 6” of stem. This 6” will trap insulating snow. Remove the rest in the spring. Some gardeners prefer to wait till spring to cut back perennials, but I think the dead tops give your garden an unkempt look in the winter. Heucheras (coral bells) are one of a few perennials that are evergreen here. They should never be cut back to the ground.

Leave the attractive foliage and flower heads of ornamental grasses and perennials such as Sedum spectabile to enjoy all winter; wait till spring to cut them back.

On some beautiful day this fall, get outside and protect your plants from winter’s hazards; your plants will thank you for it.