Tree and Landscaping Precautions to Take Before Winter
Your facility trees and carefully manicured landscaping enter the "danger zone" with every approaching winter season. Unless you take the proper precautions, and in a timely manner, you run the risk of losing the money you have already invested, spending more than you should on "post-winter recovery," and allowing your trees and landscaping to become a danger to those present on the property.
Some potential problems, along with some corresponding precautionary actions to take, are mentioned below:
Winter Time Tree Care
The first danger your trees face during the winter is from internal stresses caused by intensely cold temperatures. The radical differences between daytime/nighttime temperatures can stress trees to the point of cracking, the "sunniest side" of the tree being most vulnerable. The best thing one can do to prevent this is to protectively wrap the tree trunk prior to winter (normally with young trees only). Most trees, however, will recover naturally, and it is just a matter of guarding against insects/diseases infiltrating the crack in the spring.
A second problem is early frosts bursting the cell structure of late-season growth that has not had enough time to re-acclimate for the winter, and leaving branches with dead ends. Waiting until trees have gone dormant to prune them is the best defense since it curbs late growth. Another factor is using a root rather than a leaf growth fertilizer in the autumn.
Another danger to avoid is "winter drought," meaning when a tree dehydrates because it can't draw water out of the frozen ground, even as the sun hits it all day long. Dehydration caused by dry, cold winter winds also contributes. The best defense is to mulch around the tree base in late fall. This helps to keep the temperature up and the ground unfrozen and also slows moisture loss.
Finally, tree branches are more likely to break off during winter as the cold makes the wood become more brittle. Add in ice and snow load and strong, gusty winds, and the danger is even greater. Not only does this damage your trees, but falling branches may hit your building, a car, a pedestrian, or a power line. To prevent this, have an arborist inspect all facility trees at least bi-annually to root out dead/dying branches, especially along sidewalks, roads, and parking areas.
Winter Time Landscape Care
Your sod, plants, and shrubs also need special attention to get safely through the winter and avoid causing you trouble. First, be sure to remove all leaves/debris from the lawn to prevent "winter kill" and harboring diseases and rodents. Second, cut grass down to 2 or 2.5 inches (5 or 6 cm) on the final pre-winter mow to prevent death of late-growth grass tips. Third, aerate and fertilize your turf just before the first winter freeze. This helps drainage and gives grass a head start on growth in early spring.
As to plants/shrubs, winterize them by post-dormancy pruning, mulching, and fertilization, the same way as with trees and for all the same reasons. Some plants without deep, hardy root systems, however, may need to be removed into a greenhouse and re-planted in spring.
Finally, be sure to properly winterize your irrigation system, shut down and cover all outdoor water spigots, and inspect and do maintenance tasks on all landscaping equipment before putting them away in storage.
Protecting your trees and landscaping during the harsh days of winter requires careful planning and appropriate action long before winter weather first arrives. Regular care and maintenance throughout the year should be augmented by specialized attention in late fall to ensure your greenery looks its best in the spring.