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Winterize the landscape

Just as your home needs winter protection so does your lawn, garden and landscape.


The growing season is winding down – but for proactive gardeners and homeowners – it’s not over yet.

Fall is an important time in the rolling year to protect your landscape investment.

Scarlet, crimson, flame and sunny yellow leaves are now faded and on the ground for raking, lawn mowing or blowing into flower beds and perennial borders.

There are still lots of ways to improve and protect the landscape right now and get a jump on next year’s season.

Apply fertilizer; sparingly

Andrew Eckhoff, general manager at Bountiful Acres in Buckingham Township, recommends lightly fertilizing perennials and lawns in the fall.

“The weather is colder and growth has slowed, but it hasn’t stopped yet,” Eckhoff explained.

“The plants die back, but the roots are still growing. Cutting back perennials – or those with dead tops – and putting down a light layer of mulch to freshen things up makes the yard look good before winter sets in,” he said.

Margaret Pickhoff, a commercial horticulture educator in the Bucks County office of Penn State Extension in Wrightstown Township suggests focusing on specific elements in the landscape and tackling appropriate jobs now.

Protect the soil

Soil protection and erosion prevention can be as simple as topping up mulch with organic leaf material, pine needle “straw” or a bark mulch refresher.

“Place something around trees and shrubs, perennial plants and over bulbs you’ve planted. It’s a good way to protect the soil,” Pickhoff said.

Reduce weeds for next year

Cleaning up weeds in the fall can help reduce them cropping up in the spring and summer months.

“Some weeds are fall germinating. In the spring with warm weather they will grow exponentially – if you remove them now you won’t have them in the springtime,” Eckhoff said.

Some lawn weeds are early to germinate. For those, Eckhoff recommends using pre emergent lawn controls to help stop weeds – like invasive Japanese stilt grass – from becoming an even bigger problem in the spring.

Pickhoff said it’s important to focus on weeds that produce seed heads and pods, too.

“Ideally you want to remove them before they flower and turn to seed. Removal is the best management. Ragweed and lamb’s quarters all produce thousands of seeds per plant, so focusing on them now is good,” she said.

Don’t forget to remove invasive plants and vines, shrubs or trees too.

“Now is a good time to use an herbicide, if you want to go that way, as the plant is ‘shuttling resources’ down into its roots,” Pickhoff said.

Planting and care

Fall is for planting –an age-old slogan for the perfect time of the year – to set shrubs and trees in the ground. Planting in the fall holds true for several reasons, according to Eckhoff.

It’s the perfect time for weather conditions. The soil is still warm, and the sun’s heat won’t dry out the plant like it does in warmer months.

It’s the best time to scope foliage and color for your landscape.

“Red maples, black gum [black tupelo tree] and sugar maples – those three trees have spectacular fall color. Keep an eye on what you like now, and plant one in your yard” now or next year, Eckhoff said.

If you are planting trees now be sure to pay attention to them over the next few weeks. Watering is key, especially during dry stretches.

Pickhoff said many people may forget to water plants during this time of year, because it’s cooler.

“If you’ve just planted trees or shrubs, continuing to water until we get temperatures closer to freezing will make the newly planted material more resilient throughout the cold [months] and into the next growing season,” she explained.

In order to get larger plantings off to a great start, be sure to keep them well watered before heading into winter’s freeze.

“Even if you have to hand water new trees, shrubs or perennial material, water about once every five days to help them get established,” Eckhoff said.

When temperatures drop consistently, make sure hoses are winterized and water is turned off and faucets are open to protect against damage to outside faucets and hoses, and prevent pipes from bursting.

Staking newly planted young trees – or those with smaller caliper diameters – gives them support to grow straight against fall and winter winds.

Beware of winter burn

Bark cracking, specifically on young trees, shrubs and on evergreen varieties is known as winter burn, Pickhoff said.

“This is a reaction to major swings in temperature – day and night – and increased sun exposure, which can be stressful for plants,” she said.

Thin barked trees like cherries, crab apples and maples can experience winter burn and bark cracking.

“One easy way to protect them is to wrap the trunk of the tree. Bark wrap is a quick way to give a little extra protection for younger trees and those that are newly planted,” Pickhoff explained.

Don’t wrap trees so tightly they are “trapped” inside the wrapping, she cautioned.

“When you see growth resuming in the springtime – when temperatures start rising and buds start to emerge – you should remove the bark wrap,” she said.

Protection for evergreens

Evergreens are susceptible to injury from winter burn – especially those planted on the south or southwest sides of buildings.

“These are exposed to intense sunlight, and that can cause the stems to dry out” causing the needles to die off, she said.

Evergreen die off of this type will likely show up in the spring.

Wrapping burlap is another option and any plants staked and wrapped with burlap need room for sunlight, rain and air to circulate and so the branches are not “constricted.”

Now is a good time to wrap any shrubs that are tender or marginally hardy like Camellia, crepe Myrtle and figs, too, Eckhoff said.

To burlap wrap a tree truck or shrub:

• Set stakes at four corners.

• Use burlap to create a barrier for the tree or shrub to protect it against direct sunlight and exposure to wind.

“Both wind and sunlight can contribute to water loss, especially for evergreens, which is why we get that desiccation, she said.

Tree trimming, shrub pruning

Trimming and pruning trees and shrubs once they’ve moved into their dormant period – and after they’ve dropped or lost foliage – is important for aesthetics and appropriate for plant health, Eckhoff said.

“Broad leaf evergreens can begin to desiccate during cooler months. Spray them with an anti desiccant” Eckhoff said. Holly and camellia are examples of such plants.

Winterberry, which is a type of holly, may still have foliage or leaves deep into December or even January.

“I leave the winterberries for the birds and in porch pots and arrangements. By January the leaves begin to fall back, and you can prune in March before new leaves emerge,” Eckhoff said.

Red winterberry is a favored food of Eastern bluebirds.

There is no mistaking their brilliant blue backs, heads and wings flushed orange bellies and breasts. If you are fortunate enough to spot these enchanting birds gobbling winterberries off your shrubs or arranged in holiday planters and container decorations, their feeding is a treat to watch.

WARNING: Do not use artificial berries or branches containing fake berries in porch and patio containers or on outdoor wreaths. Wildlife – including wintering bird species – cannot tell the difference between real berries and plastic ones. Ingesting plastic material kills birds.