It seems to happen suddenly, even though I know the actual preparation and execution of the task takes at least one weekend.
But to the busy and casual observer, it seems swift.
One minute, the neighbors have patio furniture, a garden statuary, bird feeders, sand boxes, and plastic children's houses in the yard.
And the next minute, it's all gone. Cleaned. Stored up. Put away. Tucked in. These items won't make another appearance until winter and its harsh snow, ice and sleet have thawed.
It seems like everyone does some sort of preparation for the onset of winter in the northern U.S. It's a ritual. Or maybe more of a natural habit, really. We store the patio furniture away because we know it'll last longer if we do, and maybe because we've experienced the destruction that can result if we don't, which usually hits the wallet pretty quickly. My neighbor left his patio set out one winter only to find moldy seat cushions come spring - definitely not something you can enjoy once ruined.
Trees and plants are also assets to outdoor spaces - enjoyed just like your patio furniture. Trees provide shade on the sunniest and warmest summer days. And they offer that relaxing and enjoyable backyard vista that makes us feel like we're in a park setting in our own landscapes. Plants provide color and texture, giving the landscape depth and variety. So they deserve a bit of winter preparation as well.
Luckily, the work you have to do to ensure your trees and plants are ready for winter is far less than the monumental challenging of assembling and dissembling your patio set each year. "There's a tendency to want to tuck trees in for the winter," says Davey's Greg Mazur," but prepping trees for winter isn't necessarily difficult."
What are the essentials? First, think about water. When temperatures get below freezing, more damage can be caused to a tree's root system if the soil is dry vs. wet. This impacts evergreens more than deciduous trees. Make sure trees get adequate moisture in the fall so they don't go into the winter with dry soil, Mazur advises.
Next, pruning is important. "Many people think that trees need to be pruned in the middle of the growing season so they can tell which branches are dead or alive, but that isn't so," Mazur says. "A trained arborist can tell in winter which branches are dead or alive and can remove the right branches in order to properly shape a tree and get it away from a roofline or have sunlight filter through to the ground to give light to other plants."
Speaking of the ground, a thick carpet of wet leaves on a turf area during winter will kill the turf. Mazur recommends people rake up their leaves or mulch them with their mower so they break down and can help return nutrients to the soil more quickly.
If you are concerned about weeds coming up in your plant or tree beds in early spring, fall is also a good time to put down some new mulch. "You don't want to overdo it, but a nice layer of mulch helps retain soil moisture and heat through the colder months," Mazur says. A 2- to 4-inch mulch layer is recommended to reduce weed germination and insulate the soil.
When it comes to large snow piles and road salt, keeping these away from tree and plant roots as much as possible is a good idea. Salt can leach the water away from tree and plant roots, putting the tree in a drought-like state. Also, a heavy concentration of salt built up during winter may not be seen by the naked eye in spring-time because the heavy rains have washed it away, but it still can negatively affect landscape plants, Mazur says. He recommends homeowners apply 50 pounds per 1,000 square feet of gypsum to turf or soil in late November or early December to help protect roots from the affects of salt damage.
As always, my Davey arborist friends know quite a bit about trees and their health during winter months, so don't hesitate to give them a call. We live and breathe trees - it's what we do.