Fall means football season and Halloween costumes. It also means winter is around the corner. Taking time during the fall to prepare your facilities’ landscaping for winter weather can save time and money. Responding to emergencies is far more costly and disruptive than preventing them. Ensuring plants, lawns, and trees survive the winter avoids expensive springtime replacements.
Start With a Needs Assessment
Inspect your grounds for signs of tree and plant weakness, sickness, or overgrowth, especially for trees near buildings and windows. A sick tree in autumn is more likely to topple in winter winds—risking injury and damage to structures. Trim plants and limbs that are overgrown before winter begins. You may need to remove diseased trees. And be sure to check your hardscapes, sidewalks, and parking lots. You may need to apply a sealant to prevent cracks from widening in freezing temperatures.
Prepare Plants for Freezing
Lawns on land that freezes need extra water in the fall to survive during the winter. Watering can be tricky in parts of the West where drought conditions make water precious and may make overwatering impossible. Trees and bushes may need extra water too. Mulching around trees and shrubs can also help fend off frost damage.
Especially important in the drought-stricken West, saving rainwater for later use can benefit both your lawns and your bottom line. Look for ways to divert stormwater runoff into landscaped areas to avoid tapping into public water supplies. You can also look into rain catchment systems that fill tanks with water for irrigation. Check that storm drains are free of obstructions.
Review Your Plants
If you can replant now or in the spring, review the types of plants that will work best in your environment—especially when looking to conserve water and provide summer shade. The U.S. Department of Agriculture publishes a climate map that can help you find the best plants for winter landscaping based on your geographical zone. You can also see which plants won’t succeed in your zone, so you know what not to plant. Consumers are increasingly concerned about business’ environmental practices. If the public uses your facility, post signs around plants to inform them that you are growing drought-friendly plants to conserve resources.
Keep on Raking and Cutting Grass
Leaves keep sunlight and water from reaching grass, so while it might be tempting to cut back on leaf removal as winter nears, it’s actually more important than ever to keep your grounds clear. Leaves left on your lawn that become wet from snow and ice will smother your turf during the winter, blighting your lawns and damaging plants. This is also the time to cut grass to a shorter length than usual. Keeping grass short during the fall and winter prevents disease growth by keeping blades exposed to oxygen and sunlight.
Make sure your turf has the nutrients it needs to survive the winter by fertilizing lawns two to three weeks before the ground freezes. Roots will grow deeper, ensuring healthy, green lawns come spring. Apply fertilizer after mowing, in the morning or evening, as sunlight and heat degrade essential nutrients.
Wrap Cold-Sensitive Plants
Some plants are more susceptible to cold damage. Young trees and plants with thinner bark are especially vulnerable, and can crack and burn when a sunny winter day is followed by a cold nightfall. Wrap cold-sensitive trees and plants with burlap to protect them from thermal damage. Wrapping also protects weak, newly planted, and dehydrated plants.
Drain and Shut Down Irrigation
In areas with freezing temperatures, irrigation pipes are as prone to bursting as plumbing pipes. Clean out and shut down irrigation systems to avoid system damage during winter. Winterizing irrigation systems includes blowing out any leftover water and turning off the system, so you don’t face any severe breakdowns or costly repairs come springtime.
Protect Landscaping from Deicing Materials
Some deicing chemicals are toxic to plants, as is road salt. Plan where you will and won’t apply these materials to sidewalks, parking lots, and roadways. You’ll need deicers that work at the right temperature, are suitable for your surfaces, and fit your needs—whether that’s allowing cars to drive and park safely or making safe walkways.
Prepare and Save
Winter weather in the form of violent storms or extreme drought can badly damage landscaping. With proper planning, you can enjoy peace of mind knowing that your facility is ready for whatever Mother Nature has in store this winter. You can protect your investment and keep your landscape in peak health by assessing and addressing financial, safety, and environmental risks. Planning ahead lets you prevent emergencies, reduce or eliminate springtime repairs, and enjoy the holidays like everyone else.