Getting Your Yard Ready for Winter

Try these tips for getting your lawn and garden ready for a long winter's nap.
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©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Image courtesy of Lynn Coulter

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Prepare Your Garden for Winter

When the last leaf falls, will your yard be ready for winter? A few simple tasks will save you time and frustration come springtime. Image courtesy of HGTV Gardens community member my back yard

Problem: Patchy Winter Yard

In the fall, turfgrass tends to develop a distinct two-tone look, as if half the grass is dead and the other half is alive and well. This is the result of overseeding a warm-season grass, such as Bermuda, with a cool-season grass like fescue. The warm-season grass isn't dead; it just goes dormant once temperatures drop below freezing.

Solution: Overseed Your Lawn

If you overseed heavily enough with the cool season grass, you should be able to achieve a nearly solid green lawn all winter long. The best time to overseed is six to eight weeks before the first hard freeze. If you notice bare spots once the seeds begin to germinate, seed those areas again. Bear in mind, however, that if cold weather comes early, the grass that comes up following the second seeding may not have time to develop a strong root system to survive winter, so start early.

The Great Rake Debate

It's true — those fall leaves can make for great winter compost or mulch. But thick layers of abandoned leaves, especially when wet, can compact to the point where they suffocate the grass below. It's a good idea to routinely rake or blow them off the lawn or, better yet, use a mulching mower to shred them into fine pieces.

Compost Those Leaves

Fallen leaves are an excellent source of nutrients and organic matter. When raking, instead of tossing them out, put them in the compost pile or use shredded leaves as mulch. Putting this material around your flower beds in the fall will provide an excellent blanket of insulation.

Watch Your Conifers

Panicking because your conifers' needles are browning? In the fall, conifers go through various changes, so it's normal for some needles to turn brown and drop from the tree as long as this is taking place primarily within the interior of the plant. If you're bothered by the look and the tree or shrub is small enough, you can remove the dead growth by shaking the plant vigorously or cutting it off with pruners.

Remove Annuals and Mulch Perennials

Annuals typically die when temperatures drop below freezing. But perennials often appear as though they too have bitten the bullet. That's because their top growth dies back, although in most cases the root ball is hardy enough to survive even extreme temperatures, especially if it's covered with a layer of mulch. The best time to mulch perennials is after the first hard freeze. Just make sure you don't cover the crown or center of the plant, because that can lead to rot.

Protect Potted Plants

Perennials in pots may require additional protection because they aren't as well insulated. In extremely cold areas, consider placing potted perennials in a sunny spot and covering the pots with mulch or leaves.

Overwinter Houseplants

Before the cold weather sets in, bring in any houseplants that have spent the summer and fall basking in the sun. Just make sure you give them a fair amount of light, and mist them daily to maintain humidity. Also, cut back on watering and skip fertilizing altogether until spring.

Prepare and Monitor Compost Pile

Top your compost pile with a thick layer of leaves or straw during the fall and winter. This simple step accomplishes two things: It helps prevent excess moisture from building up and insulates the pile so that it maintains a higher internal temperature. Also continue to turn the pile during cold weather to help keep temperatures consistent.