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Think You Can’t Landscape in Winter? Here are 13 Projects That Prove You Wrong

November 4, 2021

Planting in Winter

Although most people don’t think of winter as a time to plant, it is one of the best times to install trees, perennial shrubs and flowers, and grasses. Because plants are dormant during this time, there is little stress on them. The plants also have more time to acclimate to their new home and will be more robust in growth and development come spring. 

How to Plant Grass (Successfully) in Winter

Fall is the BEST time to plant grass seed for cool season lawns. However, you may cheat a bit and utilize what is called “dormant seeding”. This is where you broadcast grass seed over a layer of snow/ice toward the end of winter (Feb-March) so that the seed is pulled down into the soil/mud. This allows nature to help physically plant the grass for you. Typically, this will yield mixed and less-than-expected results, but it can help fill in bare spots.

Mulching Landscape Beds in Winter

Winter is a great time to spruce up landscape beds with a fresh layer of mulch. Aesthetically it provides a crisp and fresh look, but more importantly, it will help provide a warm blanket for your plants’ root systems. Drastic temperature fluctuations, hard freezes, and winter drought can stress plants and ultimately kill them.

Adding mulch rings around stand-alone trees and shrubs is very important. Besides holding moisture for the root system, these rings provide a physical barrier from mowers and weed-eaters which can very quickly girdle a tree’s bark. Cutting the outer portion of the tree reduces its ability to send food and water up and down the tree. 

For vegetable gardens, adding a fresh layer of manure on top of the soil will allow the fresh manure to slowly break down and be ready to be tilled in for next spring. Manure is a great source of nutrients and can slowly feed the plants an entire growing season. 

Fertilizing in Winter

Fertilizing Trees, Shrubs, and Ornamental Grasses in Winter

Winter is a time for trees, shrubs and ornamental grasses to rest, so fertilizing is not recommended. However, amending the soil to improve pH or growing conditions can be done in the winter months. To raise the pH from an acidic level, you need to apply a lime material. This is a mineral that takes time to break down, leaching into the soil to reach the root zone. Winter allows for the time and weather to work. 

Soil Amendments for Lawn Grass in Winter

While trees, shrubs and ornamental grasses do not need to be fertilized in winter, your lawn should have a winterizer fertilizer applied between December and January. This is the MOST IMPORTANT lawn application your grass will receive. The urea or ammonium is slowly pulled into the root system, stored and waiting to help the grass flush back out stronger and more colorful in the spring. 

Winter Fungus and Pests

Unfortunately, the colder temperatures do not kill most pathogens and pests that have negative effects on our plants. These organisms are very well adapted to Midwest weather conditions. An easy house keeping rule for preventing any new or repeat outbreaks of fungus, bacterial infection, or insect damage is to remove all diseased or unhealthy-looking branches and leaves. Remove the dead leaves off of and away from the desired plants so that the infected leaves do not have a chance to reinfect plants and you get rid of any insect eggs that may have been laid on the leaves. 

Winter Pruning

Winter is one of the BEST times to prune back your trees, shrubs, flowers and ornamental grasses. Once again, the plants are dormant and most of the plant’s sap has transferred to the roots system, allowing for less stress on the plant when cut. Some plants may only need a little shaping, but others may need drastic pruning – even taking off as much as 70%-80% of the branches in preparation for all new growth in the next season. Winter pruning should occur during December and January. Ornamental grasses can wait until February as their remaining foliage/flowers are aesthetically pleasing in the landscape when nothing else is performing. 

Be sure to rake up and completely remove all fallen branches and dead leaves to help reduce any fungal or insect infestation for the following season. 

Watering Plants in Winter

Be sure to mulch in newly planted trees, shrubs and flowers. This will insulate the roots from the harsh winter conditions and more importantly, keep them from drying out. Watering is very important in winter. Though quite often overlooked, not watering plants in winter can be detrimental to the plants’ health. Even though plants are mostly dormant, they still need a level of moisture to survive. In fact, drought conditions can occur during winter and trees and shrubs are lost in spring due to desiccation. If there is no precipitation (rain, ice or snow) for weeks on end then apply water to the new plants when temperatures are not freezing. DO NOT APPLY HOT WATER as this will kill the plant(s). 

Fortunately, trees and shrubs do not require a lot of water during the winter, but if it has not rained or snowed in 6-8 weeks then it is recommended to water when possible. Use the same schedule as in the summer and give your plants a good soaking to reach the root system. Luckily, between good mulching and cooler temperatures, natural precipitation or waterings go a lot further than in the warmer months. 

Winter landscaping projects

With cooler temperatures many landscape projects can still be completed with more ease than in hot temperatures. 

Planting in Winter

Planting trees and shrubs while dormant is less stressful and will yield a lower mortality rate. 

Winter Hardscape Projects

Hardscapes can be tackled (provided the soil is not frozen), such as installing landscape bed edging, retaining walls, patios, outdoor living spaces, benches, etc. These “anchor” pieces of the landscape may be completed so that finishing touches may be tackled in early spring, such as flower planting, ground covers, mulching, etc. 

Lighting Projects in Winter

Lighting can be added to existing or new landscapes. Running new wiring is easier with newly pruned trees/shrubs and no leaves for fewer obstacles to work around.  

Gutter Work in Winter

Adding pop-ups onto gutters is another great winter project. Pop-ups are extensions of the downspout of the gutter to carry the water underground, out and away from the home’s foundation. This allows the water to bubble up to the surface of the ground without causing erosion, while still controlling where the water drains.

French Drain Installation in Winter

French drains are recessed into the ground to allow water to drain into and be carried away to reduce flooding or standing water. Winter is a great time for installation since most water issues in the landscape or home are during the spring with thawing, spring rains and storms. 

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No matter what project you want to tackle this winter, the helpful folks at Grass Roots have your back. With expert install advice and professional supplies, we can be a one-stop shop. We know you’re not taking a break from your yard this winter, and we won’t be, either.

Not sure you want to DIY? Call our sister store, Custom Creations Landscaping & Lawn, for expert installation and maintenance. 418-840-2863.

Dave Ruzicka