By Steve Hoogenakker, Taylor Made Lawn and Landscape
hough the landscape season is winding down, there are still many lawn and landscape activities you can do to prepare for winter and to get ahead for next spring. Rather than looking at these activities as “chores,” think of them as opportunities to savor those last few weeks of beautiful weather before we head for the inevitable deep freeze.
Fall is a Good Time for Planting
- Overseed thin parts of the lawn. Grass seed that’s planted by the middle of September should grow a strong enough root system to make it through most winters. As an added bonus, you won’t find weed seeds sprouting along with the grass when you plant this time of year. Seeds must make contact with soft, receptive soil to grow well, so be sure to power rake, aerate, or manually scruff up the soil immediately before you plant.
- Divide and transplant perennials in early September. They need a good three weeks of mild growing conditions after you plant them to become re-established sufficiently to make it through winter. You’ll also need to pay special attention to mulching these perennials as the soil begins to freeze. Cover them with several inches of straw, or rake about a foot of leaves on them. (Straw is better because the stems are hollow and trap insulating air; leaves tend to mat down, excluding insulating air pockets.)
- Add evergreen trees and shrubs to your landscape for winter interest. Cooler fall temperatures create less demand on their roots to supply moisture. The sooner you plant, the better. You want plenty of time for those roots to begin to grow and become established before harsh weather sets in.
Routine Maintenance Nets Better Growth Next Spring
- Fertilize the lawn. Use a standard high nitrogen lawn food to help your lawn develop strong roots and runners. Grass that is fertilized in fall will come back thicker and greener next spring. If you’re trying to get your lawn really thick, you may want to follow up with a second application of fertilizer in mid to late October. Though top growth will have slowed or stopped because of cooler temperatures, the underground portions remain active several weeks longer.
- Core aerate compacted soils. If your soil is heavy and clay-like, or it has become compacted over the years from kids or dogs romping on it, make a habit of core aerating every year or two. Rent a machine that takes plugs out of the soil and throws them onto the lawn’s surface. They’ll crumble and “topdress” the soil with microorganisms to help break down thatch. The holes will also allow moisture, fertilizer, and oxygen to penetrate into the root zone, resulting in healthier grass.
- Renew mulch around young trees and shrubs. Shredded bark, woodchips, and other organic mulches break down where they contact the soil. They also settle over time. Check to see that mulching materials are about three inches deep over the root ball area of young trees and shrubs. This mulch will protect them from extreme cold as well as early spring thaws. Be sure to leave a small space between the mulch and your plants’ trunks or stems to avoid moisture damage.
- Water evergreen trees and shrubs regularly. Unlike deciduous plants that lose their leaves, evergreens keep their leaves or needles throughout the winter. This means that they’re more vulnerable to drying from winter sun and strong winds. Allowing them to go into cold weather stressed for moisture will increase the likelihood these plants will suffer disfiguring winter “burn” or browning.
Lawn Sprinkler Shut Down
Make sure that the irrigation system is blown out by October 31. If there were main line breaks, or irrigation problems, repair before the shut down if possible so the compressed air can clear the lines out correctly.
Many big backflow preventers cost upwards of $1,000 and should be put away for the winter so they don’t get stolen. If you have an RPZ backflow, the association is required to have it inspected once per year.
Getting ready for SNOW!
Yes, snow is coming.
Decide on your snow contractor early and get three bids. Check references. Do you have your own specifications?
The snow services can only be as good as your contract and understanding with your contractor. They want to do a good job, so make sure your specs spell out exactly what the board expects. If you don’t have specs or want me to look them over, call or email me and I’ll advise you or help you get your own specifications even if you’re already under contract for the year.
Just as important as a clear contract are clear expectations with the residents. Send a letter out advising residents of who the snow contractor is, the trigger depths, and let them know what they can expect — and more importantly, what not to expect. This will save everyone phone calls and disappointments all season long. Items that cause confusion among the board, contractors and residents are:
- Sand/Salt barrels?
- Trigger Depth to start snow removal operations?
- Who is responsible for city sidewalks? For Common area sidewalks? And personal patios – walkways?
Here’s an area that most associations don’t cover: Roof raking. If we receive a lot of snow and there is continual melting onto the sidewalks where it re-freezes, will your contractor come out and rake off the roof regularly? It’s normally an extra hourly charge. Just have this area addressed so you don’t have to wait a month for the next board meeting to approve this service. You could have two slip and falls and unhappy residents by the time it’s decided.
Finally, work with your contractor to develop a simple color-coded map of the areas to be plowed and shoveled, and preferred areas to pile snow. Talk to your contractor about whether you want the site staked or not, and which type of stake is acceptable. Many contractors are now using irrigation flags, which are fine, but they are only 8” tall and fall over easily.
All of these tips will help you to have the most successful snow season ever!