Even though we experience relatively short winters here in Greenville, NC, preparing our yards for the season is an important task. It might seem unnecessary to spend time and energy into cleaning up the yard just for the cold weather—much of the garden will be dormant, after all—but it’s really valuable for your yard’s overall health. Don’t think about it as prepping your yard for winter, but as equipping it to bounce back as beautiful as ever come spring. Here are essential tasks to add to your garden cleanup guide this fall:
How to Prepare Your Plants for Winter
Water your new plants well into the fall. Just because another hot Greenville summer is over doesn’t mean your plants can quench their own thirst completely. Continue regular watering until temps drop low enough that evaporation from the soil is less of a problem.
Lay mulch around the base of your trees and shrubs, and put down a layer on your garden beds. Whether it’s a layer of shredded leaves, shredded hardwood, or compost, the material will provide the soil beneath with a layer of insulation from the cold. It also helps to retain moisture, which plants still need to supply their roots even during dormancy. Over time, mulches decompose and actually feed the soil, this in turn contributes to a healthier root zone ecosystem. And healthier roots mean healthier plants. Check out our available mulches and use our mulch calculator to see how much you need for your yard. Be careful not to over-mulch, as too much could be a breeding ground for disease.
Prune away any dead or diseased limbs from your shrubs and trees. Damaged branches provide an opportunity for disease to enter and spread. Also, once the leaves drop from deciduous trees, it will be easier to see if any limbs need to be pruned out for shape, crossing too closely to another branch, growing in the wrong direction, or double leaders.
How to Winterize Your Lawn
Rake the fallen leaves as they fall. No, that doesn’t mean you need to rake every day, but staying on top of it throughout the season will make it much easier than having to rake and bag your entire landscape at once. Although it’s a time-consuming task, it’s important to either rake or mulch the leaves so that you aren’t leaving a thick, moist mat over your lawn. We doubt we need to tell you how much of a disease hazard that is! Plus, you can make it a kid friendly event—we all know how much the kids love to rake up leaves, just to jump into the piles!
If lime is needed on the lawn, late fall or early winter is a good time to apply it. The drizzling winter rains minimize runoff and the cycle of freezing and thawing helps incorporate the lime into the soil. Lower traffic on the lawn during winter is also beneficial.
As grasses prepare to go dormant for the cold season, we want to avoid encouraging any tender growth that could be damaged by freezing temperatures. So avoid fertilizing warm season grasses, such as centipede, in the fall or winter. For people who are new to Eastern North Carolina and are used to cool season grasses such as Fescue, this is a key difference in caring for your lawn.
You will begin to see winter weeds, such as chickweed and henbit, pop up once temperatures dip. Keep in mind, it is more environmentally friendly to have some tolerance of weeds in the lawn, while still controlling some of them. Be sure to read and follow chemical weed control labels closely. Because weed control chemicals are plant specific, the first step in getting rid of weeds is identifying them. Then choose your control based on the plant. If you need help sleuthing what type of weeds you have, bring them in to the nursery and we will identify them for you! Another great resource is NC State Extension’s Turf Files. Once your weed is identified, use the Turf Files to see chemical control options.
Other Ways to Prepare Your Yard for Winter
First of all, clean up debris that’s lying around the garden. Put those bags of raked leaves out for pick-up or mulch them and place them in a garden bed, get rid of your plucked annual flowers, and properly dispose of any tree clippings (especially if they show signs of disease).
Next up, store away anything that might be damaged by winds, or items with metal that might rust during the off-season. This includes outdoor furniture, playsets, bikes, garden decor, and gardening tools and appliances. If you want to keep your grill accessible, make sure to cover it with a good-quality unlined cover and keep it sheltered if you can.
Make sure you protect your hoses by disconnecting them and draining any remaining water. Store them in a warm, dry area—freezing temperatures can cause cracks and damage. If parts of your sprinkler system can’t be disassembled and stored, make sure to properly winterize and insulate them so you don’t end up with busted pipes.
Set your yard up for an easy winter by adding these few items to your fall checklist before locking up the shed for good. While you may not see the benefit right away, proper lawn and garden care and general yard cleanup will make a world of difference when the spring arrives to reveal a gorgeous garden this spring. The growing season is busy enough—get yourself ahead now!