Utah State University Extension provides informal education outreach to residents throughout the state. This question-and-answer column is designed to give you research-based information whether your gardening interest is producing fresh food, creating a landscape area or anything in between.
Question: If I have less time than usual to get my yard ready for winter, what are the most important things that I should do this fall?
Answer: There are lots of things that you can do to help your landscape look better and keep your plants healthier during the winter, but let’s focus on the things you may need to do to prevent damage in your landscape or injury to your plants.
One of the most important things to give your attention to this fall is your irrigation system. Whether you water with a sprinkler on the end of a hose, a drip system or with a compete built-in sprinkler system, you’ll need to make sure you’ve taken steps to prevent damage to your system once you’re ready to shut things down.
Irrigation system: Unfasten any hoses that are hooked to faucets, especially faucets that are attached to your home. Drain any remaining water from your hoses, coil them and put them in a protected place for the winter. Drip irrigation equipment should also be collected and stored in a protected area. If you water with a built-in sprinkler system you’ll need to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for winterizing the system. Taking the time to do this in the fall prevents costly and inconvenient repairs in the spring.
Trees are a priority: Another priority in your yard is your trees. They’re the most expensive plant in your landscape, and the backbone of your design. Most trees just need a deep soak when you’re ready to put your watering system to bed, but there are some trees that need a little special attention.
Evergreen trees and shrubs will need a last slow, deep soak in late autumn so that they enter winter well-hydrated before the ground freezes. Thanksgiving week is a good time to do this. You’ll need to use a hose or sprinkler to do this if there hasn’t been plenty of rain or snow. Make sure you water the entire root zone and don’t forget to unhook your hose when you’re done!
Any trees that were planted in the last few years, as well as any trees that have thin, smooth or dark-colored bark need to have their trunks protected from direct winter sun. Direct winter sunshine on the trunk of the tree can cause cracking, splitting and peeling of the bark and shorten the life of your tree. You can protect susceptible bark by wrapping those trunks with tree wrap. Put it on in November and remove it in March.
If you have trees with tender bark in an area where appearances aren’t too important, you can also protect their trunks by painting them with white latex paint to reflect the warmth of the winter sun instead of using tree wrap. Don’t use oil-based paint.
Mulch: You can also protect the health of your plantings by putting a 2 to 3 inch layer of organic mulch such as bark nuggets or shredded bark over the soil in your flower and shrub beds and around your trees. If you normally keep these areas mulched, you’ll want to check and make sure the mulch doesn’t need to be topped off.
Leave Your Garden Clean: If you still have some time for yard work, remove old annuals and then cut back your perennials after the tops have frozen back. As plants die back in your vegetable garden you should remove them. Also remove any weeds that you see. You can put the veggie plants and weeds into your compost pile if there were no signs of disease. The cleaner you leave your garden this fall, the fewer pest and disease problems you’ll have next year. You’ll save yourself some time if you’ll also rake the soil smooth so that you are ready to plant next spring.
Don’t Forget the Lawn: Give your lawn an application of quick-release nitrogen in late fall and continue to mow your lawn until late October or early November. If you’re using a mulching mower, this is also a great way to take care of those autumn leaves that you’d otherwise need to rake up. Once you’re ready to put your lawn mower away for the season, make your last mowing shorter than usual; about two inches is a good height. This will help to avoid having long grass blades that mat down and contribute fungal problems. Fall is also a good time to get your mower blade sharpened so that you’ll be all ready to go when mowing season starts up next year.