Tips for Fall Plant Protections

Protect plants for winter, blog

Fall has officially arrived. There have already been frost advisories for the western part of the state, so it won’t be long until frosts occur here. It is at this time that you need to think about care for your plants to protect them through the winter. Here is a ‘To Do’ list to prepare your lawn and garden for winter.

Care of newly planted trees should be considered. If it is a thin barked tree, add a tree wrap to protect it from sunscald. Sunscald is a condition that occurs during the winter with the rapid cool down at night of the cells in the trunk of the tree. The warm up can occur in the winter on warmer days but when night comes, those cells freeze and burst, causing damage to the trunk. Tree wraps will help protect young trees from this condition, but only leave the wrap on during the winter months and allow the trunk to be opened up during the summer to avoid damage from insects and disease.

tree wrapping

Tree Wrap

Young trees would also benefit from a fence around the tree to protect it from damage from rabbits and voles during the winter months. During the winter, these critters chew on the bark of our trees which causes wounds and, in some cases, girdles the tree leading to eventual death. A 2-foot high fence of chicken wire will be sufficient to protect your tree from both of these animals. Make sure the fence is dug into the ground a couple of inches so the voles can’t get under it.

Winter mulch can be applied when temperatures are consistently dropping down to the twenties each night. Winter mulch is the heavier layer of mulch we apply to plants like chrysanthemums and strawberries to keep them from having temperature fluxes in the soil they are planted in. Any plant that may be prone to frost heaving, the plant being pushed up out of the soil by a constant freeze and thaw condition. Plants that were just planted this fall could also benefit from winter mulching. This mulch can be up to twelve inches deep, which is much deeper than we usually advise but is needed for winter protection. It is better to use coarse wood chips, straw, or leaves for winter mulch rather than grass. Be sure to level the mulch back down to 2-3 inches in the spring.

Clean up all spent leaves of annual and perennial plants. Remove the dead plant material and compost it or dispose of it. If there was a problem with a disease or insect problem in the plant this summer, it would be best to dispose of it to reduce the problem with that insect or disease next year. Be sure to wait until the plants have turned brown in the fall before removing this plant material to allow them all the time available to build and store up sugars for next spring.

Now is the time to dig up your summer bulbs to prepare them for winter storage. Plants such as gladiolus, cannas, begonias, caladium, elephant ear and dahlia need to be dug up in the fall and stored indoors over the winter. They need to be dug up prior to a hard frost, or shortly after the first frost. Once the bulbs are removed from the ground, they need to be cleaned off, removing the leaves as you clean, and cure or dry them for 2-3 weeks. Then place the bulbs in crates or boxes, allowing for air flow. Store them throughout the winter in a cool, dark location such as a basement. Check the bulbs periodically through the winter to ensure no bulbs are starting to rot or mold.  If any do start to rot or mold, discard them immediately.

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Aerating a lawn…

Lawn Aeration Blog

September is the beginning of our fall lawncare season. Overseeding or reseeding lawns can be done throughout the month and at the beginning of the month we can fertilize our lawns. Toward the end of the month, fall weed control can begin, but not until our temperatures cool off more. One of the other lawn activities that may be considered is lawn aeration.

Compacted soils can inhibit the growth of your grass. When a soil is compacted, the soil particles are packed too tightly together to allow oxygen and water to pass through the soil. This can lead to shallow roots for the grass plants and in turn, can lead to less drought tolerance. Compacted soils can also lead to more thatch build up on the soil surface.

Thatch is the accumulation of dead grass stems that don’t become decomposed. In compacted soils, earthworm activity decreases, as does the activity of other decomposing organisms. The reduction in decomposing organisms leads to the build-up of thatch which can cause problems with the growth of the lawn. Lawns with a high thatch layer can begin to die because the thatch layer repels water keeping it away from the roots of the grass plants.

One of the best ways to reduce thatch and alleviate soil compaction would be to aerate the lawn. Many people interchange the terms “power raking” and “core aerating” when it comes to lawn aeration. However, these are 2 very different activities. Power raking is a more intense form of reducing the thatch layer on the lawn. It is only recommended when a thatch layer is more than ½ inch because at that point it would be necessary to renovate a lawn rather than just to core aerate.

Aeration equipment

Core Aeration Equipment, Photo from John Fech, Nebraska Extension Educator

Core aeration is the method of aerating your lawn most recommended. This is the method where a machine is driven over the lawn while it pulls out many small, core soil samples throughout the lawn. These cores are laid over the top of the lawn but help by leaving holes in the soil surface for water and air to move in and they will fill back in. Core aeration will also sever the roots of the grass plants which stimulates the plants to grow new shoots to fill in the holes.

It is best to aerate a lawn in the spring or in the fall. This time of year is best because the plants can recover before winter or summer conditions that are sometimes difficult on our plants. It is also a good time of year to aerate due to the fact that the soil has more moisture in it than in the other dry months of the year. It is not recommended to aerate a lawn when it is too dry or too wet because it is more difficult to get the tines into the soil which can damage the plants more. It is not necessary to aerate your lawn every year, or sometimes at all. If your thatch layer starts to build up, you drive on the lawn a lot causing more compaction, or if the lawn begins to look thin, aeration can be done. At most, it would only be recommended to aerate a lawn every 3-5 years.