Prepare the Backyard for Winter

hardscapesIn cold-weather

It seems like in just a matter of days you went from lounging around the pool to huddling around the fire pit and rubbing your hands together to keep warm. Indian Summer has come and gone and you know it’s time – time to pack away all vestiges of Summer and put the garden to bed.

You’ve already made the mental list of your agenda; in fact you probably have it committed to memory, because in any cold-weather state, you know that each of the four seasons involve their own separate and distinct outdoor chore list.

The first item on your list, if applicable, should be winterizing your in-ground pool. If it is a cement pool, you probably should have done this before that first frost to avoid any cracks, but you thought you just might eke out a few late evening laps by the light of the Harvest Moon. If this is your first year with an in-ground pool, you should have already assembled the necessary items to winterize your pool. Among those items would be the pool cover and net, water tubes and loops and the necessary chemicals to treat the water and keep it algae- and scale-free. Be sure to consult the manual that came with your pool installation to ensure you follow the directions to the letter.

Next you gather all the cushions from chairs and/or patio wooden settees and ensure they are clean and ready to use for next year. If not, sponge them off or spot clean them and lay then out in the sun to dry thoroughly before tucking them away ‘til the Spring.

Hose down all lawn furniture, let it dry and apply any touch-ups to wrought-iron furniture where it might have been nicked, first using a primer like Rust-Oleum®, then a paint color which closely matches the furniture. If there is no room to store tables and chairs in the garage, pull them close together in a part of the yard where there is no activity, preferably a corner. Cover the items with a heavy-duty tarpaulin, ensuring the protective cover hangs as close to the ground as possible. Secure the tarp with string or rope and set something heavy on top so a strong and wily Winter wind will not blow the cover off and expose the metal furniture to the elements, thus inviting rust to set in.

Give the lawn TLC

When mowing your lawn in Autumn, once the first leaves start to fall, it is perfectly fine to mow over the leaves and create a fine mulch. This is beneficial for your grass. Keep mowing at the same height you have all Summer. When you get to the very last mowing session of the year, cut the lawn once at the regular height, then adjust your mower to the lowest setting and give the lawn a second mowing to get the grass blades very short. Once the leaves began to fall rapidly, you should bag them up and remove them from the lawn quickly so that they don’t deteriorate or cause mold or disease.

You should plan to fertilize your lawn in the Fall, preferably while the grass is still green and about two to three weeks before the first frost. Fall fertilizer contains the most-important nutrients to feed your lawn because they are the highest in nitrogen. Use a high-nitrogen Fall fertilizer, such as 25-5-5 or something similar. This fertilizer should be applied to dry lawns and then be watered in. It is best to apply this fertilizer at the very last mowing of the year.

Periodically you should examine your lawn after a heavy rain to see if any water is collecting in low spots. You might need to consider some type of retention device, such as paver bricks, or a similar Hardscape barrier, going forward. If you retain the services of an experienced landscaping contractor in Brielle, they would be able to offer suggestions on how to combat this problem.

Fall is the time to eradicate all your weeds because if you don’t get rid of them now, they will rear their ugly heads come Spring. One thing is for sure every Spring – the weeds will come up like clockwork and you must file your taxes. The best solution is pulling them out now, ensuring the roots are completely out of the ground, or use a product containing the ingredient glyphosate (like Roundup®) which is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide that will knock weeds down and the Winter will hopefully kill them off.

Protect your water

Before you tackle the lawn and flower beds, be sure you do give all your trees and big bushes a thorough watering and even a deep watering if possible, in the days and even weeks before the cold weather sets in and you turn the water off. The reason for deep watering your trees and bushes is to keep their roots sustained with enough moisture through the Winter. The Winter last year caused many trees and bushes to die. This is not only due to the brutal Winter conditions, like the never-ending blizzards and Polar Vortex events, but many of the bushes died while seeking out moisture to sustain them in the long Winter months. You might say “well, we got snow at least every other day didn’t we?” But … in addition to snow, we had bitter cold temps plus two Polar Vortex events which plunged outside air temperatures to sub-zero or lower. Instead of a nice layer of snow covering your plants and bushes, you had ice, and that ice lasted for months. The snow had no way to penetrate the ice and distribute moisture to your bushes and trees, so their roots began pushing out of the ground in an effort to reach water. So – water, water, water every chance you can so that the ground under your prized bushes and trees stays hydrated and keeps the roots moist through the Winter months.

When you’ve sufficiently hydrated your perennials, bushes and trees, it is time to pack the hose and water systems away and turn off the outside water spigot from the inside of the house. Turn off the water and fully open the tap outside. You should do this on a clear day so you can check that no drops are coming out of the water tap. Check the cement beneath the tap or use a bowl and check if there are any drips it in. You may have to turn the water off harder so there are no more drips. Once it is completely dry under the faucet, you can proceed with wrapping the faucet. There are a number of products sold for this purpose – soft insulated sacks or bulky Styrofoam covers. Each does the trick to insulate your faucet from the Winter elements.

Put your garden to bed

The better the job you do of protecting your perennials and bushes from the harsh elements of Winter, the better they will look come Spring, when the first sprouts push out of the warm earth.
Putting the garden to bed for the Winter is mostly a matter of cleaning up and covering up. Once Fall is in progress and those temperatures drop, your plants will either be killed off due to a killing frost or prepare themselves for dormancy. Check all perennials, as well as your annuals and vegetable plants for blackened stems and poor foliage, all indicators of blight and you want to ensure they do not harbor disease pathogens and insect eggs over the Winter.

If you can’t bear the thought of cutting your perennials down, grab a nice big bunch of purple Coneflowers or Black-Eyed Susans to put on the kitchen table first, then go tackle this project head on. Somehow something seems wrong with cutting down those roses and flowers which are still so beautiful, but you need to do this to enable them to survive the Winter months so they are ready to rally and provide many months of beauty to your yard come Spring.

Snip and clip. Cut back the dry stems of perennials to soil level and do a final mini-trim of rose bushes before mulching them. You should not trim roses excessively past Labor Day as an excessive pruning in cooler weather will encourage the roses to grow again which is not good for them once the cold weather sets in. Prune your roses by at least 1/3 only, cutting off any diseased or damaged/dead canes and save the hard pruning for in the Spring. Despite the seemingly delicate beauty of your rosebushes, they are much hardier than you think!

Wait! Save some leaves to spread around your plants and bushes. Don’t bag up all those leaves to put out for the yard waste collector. They are valuable to act as a protective covering for your precious plants during the Winter months. The mulch you spread in your garden beds in the Spring has likely decomposed or washed away, so it is important to provide a thick layer of mulch now to protect plants and bushes from the elements and to keep the soil temperature even. Rake up the leaves from shade trees in your yard, and run them throw a mulching mower or leaf blower to reduce their size and provide a coarse medium with staying power to bank up around the base of the plants. If you have pine needles, this is also an excellent mulching medium as well. You should spread your organic mulch materials where bulbs are planted to ensure that they are protected in the cold weather too.

Last but not least

When the last leaves are down, bagged up and sitting out at the curb, it’s time to tackle the gutters. Remove any twigs, leaves, or debris in the gutters to allow the free flow of water or melted snow through the gutters.

Place a protective cover over your air-conditioning unit being careful not to let it hang all the way to the floor. It is important that the entire unit not be covered up as it will cause rust and also will encourage small wild animals or even birds to crawl into that covered area seeking shelter from the elements.

Clean off your mower with a broom and turn it upside down and grab all the loose grass clippings with a broom. If it is a gas mower, do the necessary steps to winterize the equipment and add fuel stabilizer if your product manual suggests to do so.

Prepare your garden tools for the long Winter. Wipe off all prongs, blades or spades to remove dirt, grime or rust from long-handled or hand tools.

Mission accomplished! Now go inside the house, put your feet up on the hassock and sip a nice warm cup of coffee or spiced cider and ruminate on a job well done.