Preparing Landscape for Fall and Winter
As the seasons change so should your landscaping practices; different seasons bring different challenges. With the right preparation, however, you can ensure your property’s landscaping stays healthy and vibrant year-round.
Here are some ways to prepare your property’s landscaping for the transition from summer to fall and winter:
1. Aerate and Reseed Turf
Fall is an ideal time to aerate turf areas, a process in which small cores of thatch and soil are removed to allow the grass to breathe. Regular aeration should be done once every year or possibly two. This prevents the soil from becoming compacted and also helps keep thatch (a thick layer of roots, stems, and debris) from building up and blocking water, oxygen and nutrients from reaching the soil. A great time to aerate is in the fall before fertilizing so the fertilizer can reach the roots where it is the most beneficial.
This is also the best time to reseed some grass types since cooler weather allows new turf to take off, sinking its roots and adding top growth quickly. In the fall, the ground is still warm, there is still plenty of moisture, temperatures are cooler at night without being too cold, and the sun doesn’t get as hot during the day – all ideal conditions for new grass growth. And dense growth provides added protection against weeds, another reason it’s important to overseed existing turf. For optimal results, seeds should be in full contact with the soil, kept moist, and are well-established before the weather turns cold.
2. Cut Back On Mowing
Raising the mower height 1/2″ during fall cuttings helps grass increase leaf area, which in turn captures more sunlight and allows for more food storage in the roots over the winter. This expanded leaf area increases turf density, which helps prevent weeds from establishing during the dormant growth season. Ideal turf height is 2-1/2 to 3″; allowing it to grow longer than this leaves grass vulnerable to fungi yet cutting it too short curtails the root system and affects its ability to withstand winter cold and dryness.
3. Weed And Fertilize
Now is the time to eradicate weeks since they typically germinate in late summer. Killing weeds in the fall means much healthier landscaping for your property in the spring. Perennial cool season weeds like dandelion can be treated with a pre-emergent herbicide in early fall. This prevents any seeds that dropped onto the turf in early summer from growing. It also reduces the amount of weeds you’ll see in the spring.
Turf needs TLC after the harsh summer temperatures and the heavy activity that comes with it. Cool season grasses should be fertilized from September to November and warm season grasses should be fertilized a little earlier in the season. Roots not only need water to last through the winter, but they can also benefit from a dose of plant sugars that protect roots from freezing and provide them enough energy to bounce back in the spring. These sugars come from chlorophyll which turf produces when there is enough nitrogen present. By applying fertilizer in late fall, turf gets the nitrogen it needs to have a better chance of surviving the winter. Potassium (which is also found in fertilizer) is also important this time of year as it helps with root growth, disease protection, cold resistance, and drought tolerance.
4. Check Fruit Trees
Rotting fruit brings both disease and pests. Check the ground underneath fruit trees and get rid of any rotten fruit. Rotten fruit can not only harm fruit trees, but also other plants and shrubs. Raked leaves should be kept in areas away from healthy fruit trees to prevent leaf-borne diseases from occurring and to also reduce habitats for mice which can destroy these trees. Cutting the grass around the base of the fruit trees has the same effect. Pruning should also be limited in the fall as this may encourage the tree to keep growing. Fruit trees must stop growing so they can harden-off before winter sets in.
5. Bring In New Plants
Fall is a great time to plant any new trees, shrubs, or seasonal color. Be careful, however, that you don’t plant the bulbs in the ground too early. This can cause them to sprout prematurely and die over the winter. This time of year the soil is more pliable which makes it much easier for new plants to take root. Although the air temperature is cooling, the soil temperature remains warm. Combine this with higher rainfall totals in the fall and you get ideal conditions for new plants, shrubs, and trees. Cooler air temperatures also mean there is less transpiration (losing water through leaves) so new plants are under less stress. Trees and shrubs that are planted during this season have all of the fall months to develop their root systems, which allows them to acclimate, rest, and recover before spring growth starts.
6. Clean Up
Spring isn’t the only season for cleaning. Fall is a good time to clean up any landscaping before winter sets in. Get rid of any dead foliage and annuals to decrease the risk of disease and pests. Clean up any debris from your property’s landscaping, deadhead any spent blooms, dig up summer bulbs for storage, pull the last of the summer weeds, and mulch before winter sets in. Now is also a good time to evaluate your property to see what worked in your landscape plan and what didn’t, so you can prepare for any changes or additions.
Adding a layer of mulch in the fall can help protect trees, shrubs, and plants from the colder winter weather. Mulch acts as a barrier to keep soil temperatures even throughout the winter. This not only protects plant roots but also helps retain moisture. Fall mulch works like spring mulch to retain soil moisture, suppress weed growth and protect bare soil from erosion, but it also has several other benefits. Fall mulch insulates soil which provides a warmer environment for soil organisms like earthworms and microbes, which improves your soil over the winter.
Make sure to apply a 1 – 3″ thick layer when adding mulch. Consider the aesthetics of mulch when choosing a material. More formal, aesthetically-pleasing mulch like shredded bark can be used in frontage areas with other types of mulch more preferable for less visible areas. Just make sure the mulch is NOT piled up around the base of the plant trunk. This can cause rotting over time.
Preparing landscape for fall and winter can be a daunting task. We can help! Contact Benchmark today for a property evaluation!