Winter does not officially begin until Dec. 21 (ending on March 19, 2020), but most Coloradoans have already experienced a hard freeze and a pretty good snow or two. Here are a few tips to help keep landscapes in good shape over the next wintery, topsy-turvy temperature months.
Winter Lawn Care. In our diocese many leaves were still on the trees when the first snow arrived preventing a thorough leaf clean-up. Now is a good time to rake the lawn to remove stray leaves, twigs, dead growth, and debris. This allows light and air into the soil, prevents snow mold and encourages turf to grow in the spring.
In early March, consider re-seeding bare or damaged patches of lawn. Rake bare spots firmly with a metal rake prior to seeding. Sprinkle grass seed into a bucket of soil and spread evenly over the bare spot. Keep well-watered until seeds germinate and the new grass is established. Because the soil is cold, seedling germination may take several weeks. Do not apply a crabgrass preventer to the lawn if you plan to reseed in the spring.
Winter Watering. Water trees, shrubs, lawns, and perennials during prolonged dry spells to prevent root damage. Remember to water only when air and soil temperatures are above 40° F with no snow cover. One to three times a month is plenty. Dry air, low precipitation and our fluctuating temperatures can cause damage to many plants if they do not receive supplemental water. Be conscientious and irrigate at mid-day so the water will have time to soak in before possible overnight freezing. A solid layer (persisting for more than a month) of ice on lawns can cause suffocation or result in matting of the grass.
Maintenance. Evaluate the garden hardscape for damage. Trellises, fences, raised beds, or garden structures can be repaired on nice days throughout the winter. Make a list of damaged or missing tools. Winter is a good time to clean, sharpen, and oil garden gadgets.
Winter Pruning. Check trees and shrubs to gauge their pruning needs. Remove broken branches or branches that cross and those that may become damaged from rubbing. Cut back any remaining dead perennial foliage from last season. Spring-blooming trees and shrubs (like lilac and forsythia) should not be pruned in winter; their flower buds are set and ready to open as temperatures warm.
Insects and Diseases. Fall garden clean-up is an important step to help prevent disease and insect problems next spring. Some organisms (like pathogens and insect eggs) overwinter on plant vegetation. After a hard freeze, remove plants such as tomato and pepper plants, squash and cucumber vines, and dig up potato tubers. Pick up and dispose of fallen apples.
Powdery mildew is generally prevalent on vegetables and herbaceous plants most seasons. Cut back and throw away these plants to reduce infection next spring. If there was pronounced black spot damage on roses, rake and throw away leaves. CSU suggests that infested plants not be composted. Home compost bins rarely reach temperatures that would kill disease (140°F). Instead, throw plants in the trash.
When temps drop, insects go into survival mode. Insects can overwinter in any stage of their development unless they migrate. Mosquitoes, grasshoppers, aphids and scales spend the winter as eggs. Bark beetles, such as mountain pine beetle and wood borers, live on as partially grown larvae under the bark of infested trees. Clean up can significantly help cut down the insect population next spring.
As we live in God’s country and experience the majestic beauty of this season there are many things to do over the next few months; pray, be thankful, water when it’s warm, prune when it’s prudent, keep it clean, pray again and repeat.
(Kerry Peetz is a master gardener and a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Colorado Springs.)