Spring Prerequisites (Your Autumn “To Do” List)

Here we go again!  We are headed for a long wintertime nap…well at least our grass, plants and trees are.  Having a beautiful yard requires regular maintenance, as well as, forethought.  It is very important to fulfill the needs of your lawn, ornamental plants and trees in autumn to insure they have a healthy start in the spring.  Following a few basic steps at this time of year (September through November) will release you from excess work in the spring and summer.  We can all use a little more play time in the spring, no?

My first recommendation is to…

…have a soil test performed.  By testing now, you will be able to determine the needs of your soil and then apply lime or other necessary amendments to have the soil ready and nutrient rich by spring.  The Adobe Acrobat document below provides instructions for how to collect proper soil samples and where to take them.

The following document will help you to interpret your soil sample results.  While I am sure your local Extension office will be glad to help, I hope you can use this for reference.


Another thing to consider: Is your mulch still performing?  You will need enough mulch (about 3-4 inches) to help the soil around your plants retain moisture and to insulate them which will help during freeze and thaw events. When we fluctuate temperatures quickly during the winter, the soil will expand and contract. When this happens, your plants will experience damage, some might be heaved right out of the ground.  If you notice this happening, you will need to get them re-seated soon to prevent the roots from drying out. While applying the mulch be sure not to push it against the base of any plant, including trees.  If it is allowed to contact the crown or base of plants, it will cause a myriad of problem including fungus, rot and insect/pest infestations.  It is also an excellent time to clean excess debris from the beds and trim many perennials down (not shrubs or trees). Any plants which have slumped over and are hugging the ground (hostas, dayliles, iris, etc…) will be an open invitation for fungus and pests such as slugs or ants, so it is best to clean these up now before they have a chance to move in.  We even offer free delivery with a minimum order of 4 yards to many zip codes! Check here to see if you are in the zone!

An Irrigation sprinkler watering a garden

Probably the single most important requirement for this year is something we generally take for granted…water.  The lack of natural precipitation is taking a toll on the healthiest of plants and trees in many states. Under normal circumstances, they would have had plenty of rain to prepare them for winter, but this year we will have to supplement. A deep and thorough soaking two or three times before the ground freezes should satisfy their thirst, but if we remain in the dry pattern, a few soakings during winter warm-ups might be necessary.  Unfortunately we will not be able to run our in-ground irrigation systems so don’t forget to remove the hose from the spigot when you are finished watering!

It is NOT the time for shrub, grass and tree trimming.  Fall is the worst time to trim your shrubs and trees and you will want to wait until they are sufficiently dormant (very late fall to early winter) before doing so.  Trimming causes injury to the plant which generates a need for the plant to “repair” the damage.  If the plant has not gone dormant yet, it may be stimulated to pull energy back up from the roots making it vulnerable to freezing temperatures.  My cut-off time for all trimming is around August 31st which allows plenty of time for the plant to tend to the cuts and then prepare itself for winter dormancy.  Snow pack can cause injury to ornamental grasses if they are trimmed down in the fall.  Our temperatures fluctuate greatly which results in more melting than freeze drying of our snow and ice.  If the grasses are leveled, the snow and ice sits directly in the center of the crown which prevents the grass from drying out sufficiently…an almost certain setting for crown rot.  If you leave the grasses standing, not only do they provide winter interest, they can easily slough off snow packs and ice thereby greatly reducing the risk for crown rot.  I take my stands down to about 6 inches in early spring when the grass is just beginning to emerge, removing any lose canes in the process.


Wrapping your trees (newly planted or those with thin bark) will help to reduce winter sun scald which so many trees are prone to.  The cells of the tree (usually the southwest side) become warmed by the sun in January and will begin to wake up.  When the temperature drops this area freezes and cracks causing a vertical split along the trunk.  More than likely the tree will not die from this, but they can and it also creates an open invitation for insects and diseases.  There are many different methods used to protect the young trees, but wrapping with a light color (to reflect sunlight) seems to work the best.  It can also deter deer from helping themselves to a snack.  You will want to apply your tree wrap around Thanksgiving and remove it in late March or early April.  Be sure to inspect it on a regular basis through the winter to make sure it is still intact and not loose, possibly scraping the tree.   The trees which are most vulnerable to sun scald are:

  • Maples (including ornamental varieties)
  • Honey Locust
  • Linden
  • Mountain Ash
  • Oaks
  • Red buds
  • Willows
  • Apple and other fruit trees
  • Ornamental Cherry
  • Other thin-barked trees

While these are the trees to pay particular attention to, all newly planted trees should be protected for at least the first few winters.

The last item on your list (but no less important) is to stock up on bird seed for the winter. Our feathered friends have a difficult time finding food when we cut down all of their natural sources.  They will greatly appreciate a nice buffet through the frozen months.  If you are concerned about weeds resulting from the seed, try our Wild Delight bird seed which contains no filler seed.  Your outdoor pets will tend to eat every morsel eliminating the waste of undesirable seeds which create the clutter and eventual weeds.

Well…that’s all I have for now!  Give us a call if you need further advice or check product availability.  I hope you get all of your chores done because I know you will be pleased with your results come spring!  Enjoy!!

The Garden that is Finished is Dead

Which Plants Were Troopers?

Finally!!  It appears as though we have interrupted the extreme heat marathon (20 days…wow!).  While almost nothing went unscathed and growing ceased to a halt, there were a few plants which seemingly took it in stride.  I do not have irrigation in my garden beds and also did not supplement any of my established plants.  Many pouted, a few were scorched and some even dropped some leaves, but the rest stood strong as if they were thoroughly prepared for such an event.  Sedum, Prickly Pear and Ornamental grasses did not even skip a beat which was of no surprise, but other plants which I was sure I might lose impressed me. My fear of losing many was generated by the fact that



this was the second stressor for them this year.

Earlier this season, I was presented with an additional challenge which (I am sure) placed extra stress on my plants.  The neighboring farmer hired an individual to spray a Round-Up type (non-selective) herbicide on the fields.  In doing so, my entire yard was dusted with the product.  Nearly every one of my plants was affected.  I have since lost a few and am still waiting to find out if it did permanent damage to others, as well.  This incident combined with the extreme heat undoubtedly made my plants extra nervous.  In consideration of this, I will spare you images of my personal plants and present much more appealing representations. Thank goodness we did not have a late freeze this past spring and that we are finally receiving some much needed soaking rain.  Not near the amount we need, but it is a start.

I would have to say that the toughest plant on my list which I was surprised about was Ninebark ‘Diablo’ (on right pictured with Dianthus flowers).  At around 6 feet tall, my plant has been in the ground for about 5 years now.  Displaying only minor symptoms of being sprayed, this plant also received very little heat scorch despite being in a 100% full sun area.  There are two Barberry bushes to either side which have lost quite a few leaves.

One of my favorite plants which moved up the list during this trial is Amsonia (hubrichtii and tabernaemontana).  While this plant was highly affected by the spray, the new growth which appeared soon after barely even wilted during this heat spell.  The feathery wands stood tall and proud.  I will be adding more of this to the garden next year.

While my Hostas, Astilbe, Ligularia and Toad Lilies took a beating (all appreciate cooler weather), the Eupatorium ‘Little Joe’ (dwarf Joe Pye) never even wilted and continued flowering which provided food for the many butterflies.  Just one more plant which I would like to have more of and should look very nice in front of the Amsonia.

Crape Myrtles are seemingly so delicate and fragile.  They barely even survive our zone and can sometimes be difficult to establish.  All three of my plants still look as healthy and strong as they did before the heat wave hit.  They are even blooming! In addition, all of my Caryopteris ‘Summer Sorbet’ and Baptisia australis (pictured to the right) also sailed through this wave…they had already finished flowering which helped.

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) also took it rather well.  Much to the dismay of the butterflies and hummingbirds, blooming was placed in a holding pattern.  The day after our first hard rain, my shrubs were FULL of blooms.

Any time a blooming plant is stressed, there is a distinct possibility that they will diminish or shut down bud creation.  The blooming process takes an excessive amount of energy and while it insures reproduction, many plants will place more of their attention on overall survival. We would love to know how your garden handled the heat….drop us a line if you have the time!
As always:

The Garden that is Finished is Dead