Five ways to prepare your yard for the winter

By Ryan Cornell

Winter is coming.

And despite the havoc wreaked by snowstorms of recent years, there’s no need to panic over a vulnerable lawn or garden.

Mark Sutphin, an agricultural and natural resources extension agent in Frederick County, provided some tips for homeowners on preparing their yards for the icy months ahead.

September through November is the best time to properly fertilize the lawn, Sutphin said.

For most area lawns, which are typically cool season grasses, he said homeowners can apply nitrogen about once a month.

He said it’s important to have the soil tested so its nutrient levels and needs are known.

During the winter, grass roots will grow longer than its blades because the soil is warmer than the air.

“So now is the best time to fertilize for root growth and the establishment of the plant, versus sending it all to the grass blades that you cut off if you do it in the spring or summer,” he said.

Sutphin said people shouldn’t mow their grass shorter than about 3 inches.

“If it’s too short in the winter time, it reduces the insulation or barrier to the root system of the turf,” he said. “So it’s best to have a little bit of height there.”

Homeowners can mulch their trees, shrubs and perennial flowers over the next two months to insulate the soil and protect it from freezing and thawing.

Sutphin said a layer of 2 to 3 inches is appropriate for most trees and shrubs.

He said most people use a shredded hardwood bark mulch, though some have also used straw, pine straw or even shredded leaves.

He said people can cover their vegetable plants with burlap or cloth to protect them from the early mild frosts and get a few extra days or weeks of growing time.

Others have gone to greater lengths, constructing hoophouses and miniature greenhouses, he said.

“It just depends on how much of an investment, financially and as far as labor hours to construct it, you want to make,” he said.

Lay off the shears; Sutphin said fall is the wrong time to prune trees and shrubs.

“If you prune them during this time, it can encourage them to regenerate new growth and that new growth would then be tender and not hardened and would likely be burned when winter hits,” he said.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or

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