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The late fall and early winter months may not seem like an active time for your yard, but this is an ideal time to prepare your lawn for next year’s growing season. Here are easy but important tips you can do to promote a healthy landscape during winter.

The dormant months are ideal for pruning and trimming perennial plants such as hostas, peonies, daisies and liriope. In addition to these plants, the vast majority of shrubs and hedges can be pruned during this time. If you’re thinking about pruning your trees, now is also a great time to prune both evergreen and deciduous trees.

To properly prune your trees, inspect the tree thoroughly and cut back only failing or decayed branches. Unless you are absolutely confident in your tree pruning capabilities, we recommend consulting a local, reliable, insured tree removal service. Have them remove any dead trees or high branches prior to winter. Winter storms can bring high winds and heavy snow, which can turn dead limbs into falling hazards.

Throughout fall and into winter, it is very important to keep leaves off your lawn every few days. Leaves and debris that sit on the surface of your lawn prevent sunlight from reaching the grass blades underneath. Less sun means less growth, which in turn makes your grass look less lush and healthy. It can also result in a spotty looking lawn, with patches of dead or brown-looking grass.

As spring approaches, get a head start on your planting beds in four easy steps. First, prune all shrubs, trees and perennials in your planting beds. Then, remove all leaves and other debris. After your beds are clear, define the edges of the planting beds by first hard edging, followed by a perimeter pass with a lawn mower along the edge, followed by line trimming for a clean, crisp finish. Finally, install your bulbs for spring. For ideal results, the bulbs should be planted in a well-draining, elevated planting bed.

Mulch your planting beds at a depth of 1.5 – 2 inches. Mulch is not only aesthetic but also acts as a shield against harsh winter weather. Having over 1.5 inches of mulch keeps the roots of your plants warm and protected. As you mulch, be certain not to cover the trunk of any shrub or tree trunks. Mulch holds moisture and can cause trunk and root rot if it is spread too heavily around the base of plantings. For a finished look, contour the mulch by patting it down and compacting it with the back of a pitchfork or rake.

In late fall, mow your lawn one last time to prevent matting under winter snow. Apply Wilt Pruf, an environmentally safe moisture sealant, to provide windburn and freezing protection for your gardenias, camellias, rhododendrons, laurels and other evergreen plantings. When winter does arrive, avoid walking on your frozen lawn as it causes bare spots that will not disappear until the grass comes out of winter dormancy.

Tie up your loosely branched evergreens and boxwoods to prevent snow damage. Do not use a broom or snow shovel to knock the snow off shrubs, as the limbs may be frozen and extremely fragile. Even the lightest poke at a shrub in such weather can result in substantial damage.

You should also make sure that all your water systems are properly winterized, including irrigation systems. Make certain all water spigots are turned off and covered. If you have leftover organic chemicals, store them away for winter in a place they cannot freeze.

It is also important to winterize your tools. Empty any gasoline remaining in your mower and other equipment engines and in fuel lines. Gas left in engines can gum up fuel lines if the equipment is not used for a prolonged period of time. Maintain your tools by sharpening shovels, spades, hoes and pruners; rub down wood handles with linseed oil and wipe metal blades with an oily cloth to help prevent rusting.

Prepare your home for winter by cleaning out the gutters and downspouts once the leaves from the trees have all fallen. If you have a garden, fasten climbing roses to help prevent wind damage.

Provide protection for your tender or early flowering plants like rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas and daphne by staking around, then covering them with burlap if a severe cold spell is forecasted.

Winter Tips and Checklist for Year Round Maintenance

Trim Your Shrubs, Hedges and Trees

Remove Leaves and Debris

Prep Planting Beds for Mulch

Spread and Contour Mulch

Winter Care For

Your Landscape, Residence & Equipment

Continue Watering

Fertilize Lawns

Winterize Your Sprinklers

Protect Against Road Salt

Keep Grass Short

Just because the weather is cold and plants are dormant doesn’t mean you should stop watering. In fact, it is safe to water plants until temperatures drop below 40 degrees. Especially if trees and shrubs were planted this year, continued watering is important to ensure its survival through the first winter.

Phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen: Essential nutrients for your plants and lawn to grow lush and green in the spring, should be applied before the ground freezes.

It’s essential to protect your sprinkler system before temperatures drop below freezing. Overlooking this step can cost you handsomely when water left in the pipes freezes and ruptures underground. Repairs will be expensive and all your hard work will have to be dug up. So before you retreat into the house for the winter make sure you drain all the water out of your pipes.

If you have trees that grow near a road, especially evergreens, they can become coated with road salt. We all know what salt can do to vegetation so if your trees and shrubs are in danger of snow plows throwing salt on them make sure you protect the base and branches.

One to two inches is the recommended length. This keeps down the risk of frostbite and snow mold. Don’t leave clumps of grass clippings and leaves laying around either to prevent mice from making nests.

Don't get cold feet for Winter Landscaping

Gardeners in snowy regions have plenty of reasons to get cold feet about winter: Plants are at rest and their bright colors dissipate, leaving a palette of white and gray. And with nothing to plant, they might think there are few winter landscaping tips -- or to dos. In fact, careful planning in spring, summer, and fall -- plus a few easy accents during winter -- can lead to a beautiful landscape that shines against the stark relief of the restful season. "If you want to be sure you have some winter interest in your garden, you are really looking at just a few things," says Barbara Pierson, nursery manager at White Flower Farm in Litchfield, Connecticut.

Here are Pierson's six winter landscaping tips to make you love your yard in every season.

1. Focus on bark. Sure, deciduous trees lose their leaves in wintertime, leaving their branches and trunks in focus. But that can be a good thing, Pierson says, "if you have any interesting ornamental trees that have really visually distinctive bark, which will end up adding winter interest." Many of those trees and some shrubs are smaller, meaning they're easier to find spots for in the winter landscape. A few of Pierson's favorites include dogwoods and birch trees, great for both texture and color.

2. Include berries. Many trees and shrubs have berries they hold onto during fall and winter, and those can provide food for birds overwintering in your area. "Crabapples hold their little fruit," Pierson says, and they make a great addition to the winter landscape. "A holly with berries is really beautiful," she says.

3. Remember evergreens. Evergreens are great in the winter landscape for many reasons. First, there's color: Evergreens are not just green; they're available in yellow, such as Gold Thread false cypress, and blues, including dwarf blue spruce, and all colors in between. And evergreens just make good design sense, Pierson says. "They are really important for a winter landscape, but they make good focal points all year-round," she says. "I always like to have at least one or two evergreens and work a border around those. When you are planting a new bed, you always want to have at least one evergreen."

4. Rely on your hardscape. Winter is a good time to critically assess your landscape, figuring out where it's missing focal points. The solution to enhancing your winter landscaping might not be a plant at all. "Winter is the best time to consider hardscape," Pierson says. "A trellis, a bench, an arbor, even a garden sculpture are really essential."

5. Adorn your summertime containers. Window boxes, hanging baskets, winter-hardy containers: All are indispensable for winter landscaping. Miniature dwarf Alberta spruce and broadleaf evergreens, such as Japanese  holly and rhododendron, are perfect for wintertime, but they all have to be watered during dry periods. You don't have to spend money on plants, Pierson says. "Fill containers with evergreen boughs of different textures and colors and interesting twigs," she says, "anything with color in it."

6. Stick with four-season perennials.

Some perennials have evergreen foliage -- ornamental grasses, hellebores, even dianthus with its beautiful low-creeping foliage -- making them great for winter landscaping, Pierson says. "Make sure to read the plant label and find out if the plant has foliage in the winter, so you can see it year-round," she says. Winter is also a great time to stock up on the nonplant elements you'll need for the next year's garden, Pierson says. "It's a good time to bargain-shop for anything for the garden," she says. Take a tape measure, research plants, figure out seeds you'll need, and write down what worked and what didn't in the current year.       - Kelly Roberson