Prepare Your Yard for Winter

Toronto Life
Maple Leaf by Andrew Morrell
Maple Leaf by Andrew Morrell

The second half of October has begun, and fall becomes chillier and chillier. It’s time to face the fact that winter is knocking at the door, and it’s about time to prepare your yard for the dormant months. It’s important not to underestimate the winter preparations and to take several measures to secure your lawn, pool, soil, shrubbery, and other plants in your yard. With decent preparation, your garden will survive winter without any substantial damage and will maintain its beauty and health into the summer.

Lawn Care

First of all, it’s necessary to continue mowing your lawn until there has been no noticeable growth for about two weeks. You shouldn’t leave your grass too long because it could lay over on itself, holding too much moisture, and may develop fungal diseases like snow mould eventually. The optimal height is between two and three inches. Grass shorter than two inches is vulnerable to withering winter winds and damaging sun.

Furthermore, you should fertilize your lawn, giving the roots a healthy support before winter arrives. Use fertilizers that contain low amounts of nitrogen or a winterizer-type, lower in nitrogen but higher in potassium and phosphorus. It’s not recommended to use fertilizers with a high level of nitrogen in fall because due to it, on a warm day, the grass starts growing but then dies after the first cold snap. If you fertilize your lawn properly before winter, you can look forward to lush growth next spring.

Don’t forget to keep the dead leaves raked so they don’t stack up and suffocate the roots of your grass — especially if they show signs of fungus or pests. On the other hand, you can turn fallen dead leaves into mulch with a lawnmower, creating a vital supply of nutrients for your soil. Janet McKay, executive director of a Toronto-based forestry group LEAF, says that leaves “are the best resources you have.“


Leaf Pile by OakleyOriginals
Leaf Pile by OakleyOriginals

The fall months are great for planting and trimming trees, but be careful that your trees receive a sufficient amount of water — especially if the end of summer was hot and dry. When the trees have dropped their leaves, water them thoroughly. “Even though the trees are shutting down and ready to go into dormancy, there could be root growth,“ says Janet McKay. It’s important to prune branches that could eventually get into power lines and also keep them away from the roof of your house, as they can easily pull down gutters.

Remember: adding mulch around your trees in the fall will keep the roots insulated during the cold months. Compost and shredded leaves are very suitable for this. Lorraine Roberts, co-owner of Plant Paradise Country Gardens in Caledon, warns, “A lot of people use bark chips, but those attract insects like earwigs and slugs and also deplete soil of nitrogen.“ However, don’t cover the ground just adjacent to the trunk and leave at least an inch of it bare. Otherwise, mice and voles would establish a comfortable home there for winter.

Flower Gardens

You don’t have to cut down dying perennial foliage when getting your flower garden ready for winter. Seed heads and dried foliage can be useful during the winter, for example to feed birds or as ornamental grasses. However, if you want to have your flower beds prepared for a beautiful exhibit of spring-flowering bulbs, trim perennials to four to five inches of the ground and clean all of the dieback. When the ground freezes, add a layer of winter mulch to perennial beds and your perennials will be ready for a healthy winter sleep.

If you grow hardy shrub roses, you don’t have to bother yourself with special winter preparations. However, other, tender kinds of roses require some winter protection. Piling soil around each rose and then applying a mulch like straw, bark dust, or peat moss should provide sufficient insulation for your roses. You can also use special rose cones, but don’t forget to ensure that their top is vented so that the inside of the cone isn’t too moist.

Pool Maintenance

It’s important to prepare your pool for cold weather unless you want to face problems such as the development of algae and debris like dead leaves — or even worse, mechanical damage to the pool.

The first thing you should do is a final, thorough cleaning of your pool. Make sure that there aren’t any leaves, sticks, or bugs trapped in your skimmer basket and all the other filtration devices. Use your pool vacuum to get rid of any debris that might have sunk to the bottom. Remember also to wipe the sides of the pool, as there could be some algae growing. Your pool’s pH should be between 7.4 and 7.6. Therefore, you should take a sample, and if the pH isn’t correct, use the appropriate treatment to make sure that your pool has the right pH level.

The level of water in your pool should be six inches below the skimmer’s bottom to prevent flooding caused by rainwater. Thoroughly clean your summer cover, for example, with a pressure washer, so that you can store it while you use your winter cover. When your winter cover is properly placed, don’t forget to drain the water from your filter, pump, and heater because frozen water in your equipment could cause severe damage.

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