A few last minute tasks before winter

Take the time now to prepare your yard and garden for winter.  When spring comes you’ll be glad you did.

      Cut the grass short to discourage voles and mice from making nests below the snow.  Rake leaves out of areas where they pile up and shred them with the lawn mower for free lawn fertilizer.  They will decompose to feed the soil and will be gone by spring.

      An exception to this is the leaves of fruit trees or grapes.  They should be raked and removed from the area so that leaf diseases aren’t encouraged to stay around for next year.

      If there isn’t sufficient rain, water evergreen plants deeply before the ground freezes.  Evergreens continue to transpire water from their needles all winter and this last chance for a good drink is it until the ground thaws in spring.

      After the ground is frozen, place a winter mulch such as pine needles, pine boughs, shredded leaves, straw or other light material around all young perennials.  Also mulch around any tree, shrub or perennial where the winter sun shines directly on the root zone.  The point of the mulch is to prevent the soil from repeated freezing and thawing which damages the roots.  Do not put mulch down before the ground freezes because that’s like putting a welcome sign out for mice to come and build their winter homes.  They’ll enjoy snacking on the stems or bark of your plants as well.

      There are sprays you can buy to repel rabbits from your plants, but if you truly value a certain plant, fencing is the only sure thing.  Chicken wire is relatively inexpensive and is easy to cut and place around trunks or stems of vulnerable plants.  In spring it can be removed and rolled up to be used again in future years.

      The trunks of young trees, especially fruit trees, should be wrapped so the low winter sun doesn’t scald the bark.  Inexpensive brown paper tape is available at garden centers for this purpose.

      Wait until January or February to prune fruit trees or vines.  Pruning is a growth-promoting process and a week of warm weather in December could jump start growth that will be killed by cold weather to follow.

      After the ground freezes, pile fresh top soil 8-10 inches high around rose bush stems.  For even more protection, surround the mounded soil with chicken wire and stuff the inside with leaves, hay or straw.  If you decide to protect your roses with styrofoam rose cones, puncture several 1-inch holes around the top so that air can circulate inside.  You must remember to remove the cones on warm spring days or the roses will cook inside them.  Be ready to put them back on, however, if a cold snap is in the forecast.

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