Temperatures are dropping fast, and it’s officially starting to feel like winter is coming, but what happens when yardwork beckons? If you’re a homeowner, it can be a real pain to bundle up, go outside, and prepare your lawn and garden for the frigid months ahead.
But here’s the reality: If you don’t take care of certain yard maintenance tasks before temperatures fully plunge, you might face a mess of problems come springtime.
“Not doing these things will either increase the amount, complexity, or cost of work in spring, so start now before the weather turns. Chip away at your to-do list each week, and start planning for spring and summer projects,” says David Steckel, Thumbtack’s senior director of strategic partnerships.
So put on that parka, grab your work gloves, and be sure to avoid the following yard maintenance mistakes.
1. Not raking up the leaves before the winter
If you’ve slacked off raking leaves in the fall, you’d better step it up before winter hits.
“If you don’t rake up your leaves before a wet or snowy season, they can create a protective cover and ideal home for insects, pests, and mold, which will be quite annoying for you later in the year,” says Steckel.
The chances of your lawn growing back nice and green in the spring greatly increase when you do a proper fall cleanup, so don’t leave the task for wintertime.
2. Keeping pots planted all winter long
Experts recommend not keeping plants, including trees and shrubs, in pots through winter. Why? Roots don’t receive proper insulation from pots like they do when they’re in the ground.
If you have no choice but to keep your plants in pots, they must be extra hardy to make it through winter.
“The general rule for leaving plants in pots over the winter is that they should be hardy to two growing zones colder than the zone you live in,” says Erin Schanen, Troy-Bilt’s gardening partner, a master gardener volunteer, and creator of The Impatient Gardener blog and YouTube channel.
Schanen explains that pots that aren’t frost-proof—like terra cotta and some concrete ones—can crack in the winter because they absorb water, freeze, and then crack. Store extra pots in a shed, garage, or area that’s protected from moisture.
3. Not wrapping young trees and trees with very thin bark
If you have young trees or trees with thin bark on your property, wrapping them for the first few winters will help protect them from sunscald. This occurs when the sun heats up the tree during the day and then, at night, the rapid drop in temperature causes damage to the tree.
“Poplar, maple, and aspen are all trees that should be wrapped in their first few years,” says Steckel.
4. Waiting until spring to prune
Blake Watkins, operations partner at Monster Tree Service, says winter is a great time to prune trees because it’s less stressful for the trees.
“Pruning when the leaves are off allows climbers to see the structure of the tree when they are working. Plus, it makes cleanup easier. Most tree companies are slow in the winter, so the best rates are often available at this time,” says Watkins.
5. Not aerating and fertilizing before the first frost
Keep your eye on the weather report, and be sure to fertilize and aerate your lawn before the first frost of the season.
“Fertilization essentially gives your yard the nutrients and fuel it needs to survive the winter months,” says Steckel. “Aeration helps to remove all those wet spots you might see and creates drainage for the wet months ahead by reducing the compaction of the soil that occurred over the last six months.”
6. Underestimating local wildlife and leaving plants unprotected
Animals like deer and rabbits will eat plants they normally wouldn’t be interested in when food is scarce in winter.
“This includes eating or scraping bark as well as nibbling the tips of shrubs that may already have set flower buds, thereby eliminating the spring flowers from some plants,” says Schanen.
She recommends installing a physical barrier, such as fencing or tall stakes with netting or burlap, around new, sensitive plants or those prone to damage in fall before the ground freezes.
7. Forgetting to maintain your lawn mower before storing it for the winter
You mowed your lawn like crazy in the summer, but after continuous use, it needs some end-of-season maintenance.
“Maintaining your mower will help ensure it’s ready to go next season. However, if you neglect this step, you might have startup issues next season or see less than optimal performance,” says Barbara Roueche, Troy-Bilt brand manager with Stanley Black & Decker Outdoor.
Maintenance includes changing the mower’s spark plug, changing the oil, replacing the air filter, and checking for broken or worn parts like the belt cover, belts, discharge chute, bag, mulch plug, and tires. And don’t forget to remove, sharpen, or replace the mower blade.