Prepare your yard for winter

Lately we’ve had a definite tang of fall in the air, which means that winter weather won’t be far away. Take advantage of the beautiful autumn weather we’ve been having to get your lawn and gardens ready for the cold.

Lawns need a winterizing type fertilizer applied sometime before November unless you’ve fertilized within the last three or four weeks. Winterizers have more phosphorus to encourage deep root growth and potassium that acts as a sort of plant antifreeze to help the grass get through the winter in good shape.

Many of us fertilized our lawns less this year, knowing that more fertilizer would make the grass require more water, so this fall fertilization is more important than ever this year.

Many garden experts recommend using a heavy mulch over perennials and other plants to protect them from winter cold, but many of the drought-tolerant plants we typically grow here are more susceptible to rotting from too much winter moisture than freezing from the cold weather.

Adding a layer of manure, compost or bark mulch to flower beds or around trees or shrubs is great this time of year, but the only plants that really need to be mounded heavily with mulch are roses and other marginally-hardy plants you’re trying to baby through the winter.

If you do add mulch around trees, be sure to leave an inch or so of bare ground just adjacent to the trunk. Mice and voles have been known to nest in heavy mulches and find tender tree bark really tasty during the winter. Don’t make it too easy for them.

Wait until mid-November when the ground is frozen or at least quite cold to apply heavy mulches to plants that might need extra protection. Be sure they are kept moist until that time so they go into the winter well-hydrated.

Mound several inches of soil around the base of roses to completely cover the graft, then use a rose collar or a ring of chicken wire to hold mulch, chopped leaves or straw around the plant. Water roses monthly through the winter unless we get lots of precipitation.

If you live in deer country, protect trees and shrubs from their rubbing by using plastic tree wrap, wire cages or deer netting. Young trees with thin bark should be wrapped with paper tree wrap to prevent bark cracking from the cold. Locust, maples, linden and birch are trees you’ll want to be sure to wrap.

Broad-leaved evergreens like holly, rhododendron and boxwood will benefit from an application of an anti-dessicant such as Wilt-Pruf now and again in February. These sprays coat the leaves and keep them from losing so much moisture during the winter that the leaves brown and branches die back.

Be sure to clean up any leaves that had disease problems this year. Powdery mildew was a special problem on roses, lilacs, columbines and other plants this season. If these diseased leaves are left, the mildew spores will have a convenient place to overwinter and be ready to reinfect the plant as soon as conditions are right next year.

If you’ve had a problem with peach leaf curl disease, spray peach trees with lime sulfur after the leaves drop this fall. Lime sulfur is an old-fashioned treatment that has gained some popularity again with the resurgence of organic gardening. It is useful to treat many other diseases on dormant plants as well, but others are best treated in early spring just before the plants leaf out.

If your yard doesn’t seem to have much color this time of year, check out your nursery for late blooming perennials such as Maximillian daisy, asters and Autumn Joy sedum. One of the showiest plants in my yard now is azure salvia, a tall gangly plant with the most perfectly blue flowers ever. This is also a great time of year to choose plants especially for fall color since you can pick individuals that have the best color now.

I always appreciate an excuse to get out and enjoy the sunny weather this time of year and working in my yard always seems like a special treat now. Get out and enjoy yours, too.

Sherry Fuller is a horticulturist living in Cortez. She can be reached at Cliffrose at 565-8994 or by e-mail at fullers@frontier.net

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