Prepping the Landscape for Winter

If you are like me, you have a large chore sheet for the garden, before winter sets in. Besides my 70 some maintenance customers, I have a large 1 acre (so far) garden to prepare for the cold months. And only about 6 to 8 weeks to do it all. Read on for helpful hints and things to do to prepare your garden (landscape) for winter.

Cleaning the Landscape

The first thing I think about is landscape cleanups, as soon as the first frost or hard freeze arrives, usually in mid-October for Northeast Kansas. It is important to know what parts of the landscape need cleaned and what plants should be cut back.

What to do with Leaves?

fall leaves on the ground
leaves on the lawn

On the Lawn…

Leaves for the most part can be a challenge for many homeowners, especially those in HOAs that have strict rules about lawn care and leaves on the lawn. As a general rule, leaves should be either mulch-mowed or removed from the lawn. If you live where there are lots of trees, mulch mowing may not be enough.

Mulch mowing is chopping the leaves with a mower blade adapted for shredding the leaves better than a normal blade. However, if there are LOTS of leaves, or large leaves like those from sycamore or oak, they may pile up as they are mowed. Piles of leaves should be removed from the lawn to prevent grass death from smothering. This is especially a problem when piles of leaves get wet and matted.

In landscape beds…

I recommend leaving as many leaves as possible in the landscape beds over the winter. Leaves provide protection for tender perennials, and homes for overwintering insects, both good and bad.

However, it is better to remove and chop leaves from large-leafed trees, such as oak, hickory, sycamore, and maple, then add them back into the landscape like mulch. If these leaves are not removed and chopped, they can get wet and clumpy, killing semi-evergreen perennials such as geums, hellebores, and others.

In landscape beds that use rock and fabric instead of organic mulches, I recommend removing all the leaves. In this situation, the leaves will break down and get between the rocks, leaving debris and organic matter where weeds can take root. Many of my landscape customers have rocked beds.

What should I cut back in the flower beds?

Flower bed cutback has been a good source of argument over the years. How much should I cut back? Should I leave everything? Should I leave some things for pollinators? These and other questions are good topics for discussion.

Messy perennials…

frozen hosta leaves
Hostas look messy after a hard freeze

There are several perennials that I ALWAYS cut back in fall, not matter where they are. These perennials look messy over the winter and usually provide little to no protection for insects. These include:

Coneflower seedheads in snow
Coneflowers in snow

While catmint can and does provide some protection for overwintering insects, it is messy in the landscape and catches leaves that would otherwise blow through.

I also prune down any perennial that has flopped over a walkway or drive. I leave all perennials that provide food for birds (echinacea, coreopsis, eryngium), that are nice looking in snow (grasses, echinacea, others), and anything that is newly planted.

Annuals…

Annuals should be removed from flower pots, windowboxes, and beds to make those areas cleaner and easier to get ready in the spring. Also, if you remove your annuals after a freeze, then you can put in Christmas or winter decor to freshen up the look through January.

holiday containers
Simple winter containers

What should I do to the Vegetable garden?

compost
Compost

Cleaning the vegetable garden before winter sets in helps the soil rest and makes spring planting easier. Remove all spent stems, rotten fruit, and leaves to the compost pile.

This is the time to till the garden if you have an open plan without permanent raised beds. Apply a layer of chopped leaves and compost, then till the garden longways and cross-ways to prepare the soil for spring. Doing this now prevents having to worry about tilling the garden when wet in spring.

  1. In your raised beds, apply a layer of partially aged manure, compost, and chopped leaves to let sit over the winter. If you do not have chopped leaves, use grass clippings or just compost.
  2. Remove and stack up tomato cages, pepper cages, trellises, and vine supports. You can spray them with a bleach/water solution to kill overwintering diseases, or just let them sit outside.
  3. Remove the dead stems of asparagus, rhubarb, and other perennial vegetables.

Fall Tree Care

While fall is a bad time to prune most trees, there are a few light chores for trees, especially young and recently planted trees.

  • Wrap trees less than 3 inches in diameter with tree wrap to prevent sunscald on the bark
  • Water all newly planted trees 1 time per week, 2 times during drought weather
  • Apply Tree & Shrub Systemic Insect Drench around trees with Kermes Scale, aphid issues, or other scale insect problems
tree wrap
Wrap young trees from the ground to the first set of branches to protect from winter sunscald

Lawn care before winter

It is important to put your lawn to bed before winter so that it can rest from a hard season of mowing, watering, and trampling by kids and pets.

Aerating…

As you head into fall and the last mowing days are coming forward, you may want to think about aerating your lawn. Aeration provides air spaces in the soil and turf thatch that allow air and water movement. This helps prevent compaction and will allow for better root development the following season.

Final mowing…

The final mowing time of the year varies in each yard, by grass species, and by the location and weather. Here in Northeast Kansas, most of our lawns are tall or fine fescues mixed with Kentucky bluegrass and clover. Our last mowing is typically in October, after the first hard freeze of the season, which is around the 20th.

Remember not to scalp your grass by setting the blades too low. It is best to mow high at the end of the year to keep grass healthy. Set the blades between 4 and 6 inches for best overwintering.

Spraying for broadleaf weeds…

I always tell my customers in spring that the best time to kill dandelions and clover in their lawns was last fall. Unfortunately for most of them, they had forgotten it. I am telling you here and now to spray for broadleaf perennial weeds in lawns, THIS FALL.

Broadleaf perennial weeds are easier to control in the fall because so many of them are sending nutrients down to their roots as they prepare for overwintering. These weeds include:

  • Dandelions
  • White and Red Clover
  • Creeping Charlie
  • Plantains
  • Bindweed

For those of you lucky enough to be on Grimm’s Gardens’ lawn care program, this application will be done for you. For the rest of you, apply a broadleaf, post-emergence herbicide recommended by your local extension agent.

turf covered in leaves
This lawn will need to be cleaned of leaves before winter to prevent matting. Mulch mowing can help with this

Fertilizing the lawn…

Putting down a last bit of nitrogen fertilizer in the fall is actually best for new spring growth. As the lawn goes into dormancy, this final fertilizer awaits the coming of green-up in the spring.

Apply urea or another high nitrogen fertilizer in October for best results in spring.

Putting Away Tools and Equipment

As you finish your gardening chores, think about how and where to put away tools, mowers, and other gardening equipment.

Power Tools

Before hanging up your trimmers, blowers, chainsaws, and gas powered shears for the winter, be sure to do the following:

  • Drain the gas from the tanks
  • Replace or clean air filters
  • Clean and sharpen blades or chains
  • Oil and grease blades and metal gears as recommended by manufacturer

Mowers

lawn mower maintenance
Mower maintenance

Push and riding mowers are the gardener’s best friend, if he/she has a nice lawn surrounding their his/her beds and house. Keep these in working order by doing the following before winter:

  • Drain gas from the fuel tank
  • If you use your riding or zero-turn mower for snow removal or wood hauling, add a fuel stabilizer to the fuel tank
  • Remove, sharpen, and oil blades
  • Apply grease to wheel bearings and grease points
  • Clean the underside of the mowing decks and spray down with linseed oil or similar lubricant to prevent rusting
  • Change oil filters
  • Clean or change air filters
  • Unhook the battery cables
  • Park in a dry garage, shop, or storage shed

Hand Tools

Hopefully, you have a good storage shed or garage to place your many hand tools in before winter begins. Rakes, shovels, pruners, hoses, and others all need their own care. Follow this list to get your work done:

  • Drain and coil hoses, store them in a dry place away from chewing animals
  • Clean and sharpen shovels, spades, mattocks, axes, and hoes; then spray them with a lubricant to prevent rust
  • Clean leaf and garden rakes
  • Pruners and loppers should be cleaned, sharpened, and oiled (you will need them for winter tree pruning)
  • Clean and sharpen (if necessary) soil knives and hand trowels after bulb planting

Other Equipment

  • Drain and rinse out chemical sprayers and store in a dry location
  • Store full and partially filled containers of chemicals in a ventilated, heated room that does not freeze
  • Pull out snow shovels and oil them to prevent rust
  • Prepare salt spreaders for winter by greasing their gears and airing the tires to the correct pressure

Conclusion

Getting everything prepped for winter can seem daunting, but once it is done, you can relax. Fall only comes one a year, thankfully. Remember to enjoy the falling leaves, the autumn colors, and the cooler weather.

Happy Planting!

author of prepping the garden for winter

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