Prep your yard now for Old Man Winter

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published November 9, 2016

 Big leaves can smother a lawn, but mulched leaves on a lawn will add nutrients to the soil.

Big leaves can smother a lawn, but mulched leaves on a lawn will add nutrients to the soil.

Shutterstock image


METRO DETROIT — Even with the unseasonably warm weather through late October, Michiganders know what is coming.


And the best way to protect your lawn and garden for it, experts say, is to be prepared.

Getting the lawn aerated before the snow comes is a great way to break up the soil so water can get down to the roots, said Mike Ciuciui, owner of Bloomfield Lawn in Farmington Hills. 

This time of year is also the time to give your evergreens a good watering before the ground freezes to prevent them from drying out from “winter burn,” said Mary Gerstenberger, consumer horticulture coordinator at the Michigan State University Extension office in Macomb County.

If bushes have gotten straggly since they were last trimmed in July, now is the time to trim them slightly, Ciuciui said, adding that you should also check trees for any dead branches.

“They will come down with the snow. Before all your leaves are down, check your trees and make sure if there are dead branches (that) you contact an arborist or someone (who) can take care of that for you,” he said.

But beware of trimming trees or flowering shrubs. Deciduous trees are best trimmed in late winter or early spring unless they have diseased or bad limbs, Gerstenberger said, and flowering shrubs should be left alone. They should be pruned after they flower in the spring; otherwise, you risk cutting off the buds.

Perennials can be cut back now and annuals removed, but Ciuciui said he leaves ornamental grasses in place until the spring to leave some structure in the garden over the winter.

Now is also the time to have your sprinkler system winterized, he said. And the $50 to $75 cost is worth it, he said, because homeowners could damage their sprinkler heads and not get all the water out with a smaller air compressor.

“To get a compressor, to get the fittings, to be able to blow your system out — at the end of the day, it’s not worth it,” he said.

Around Thanksgiving, when most of the leaves have fallen, is the time to clean the gutters and downspouts of any fall debris so they are clear for winter precipitation.

“You can save thousands and a big headache from the ice damming, because you don’t want the ice to go back into your attic. It will cause all kinds of problems,” he said.

In the garden, good sanitation is key, said Gerstenberger.

She recommends removing diseased plants and picking up extra leaf litter around plants that had bug problems to take away the areas where the bugs would lay eggs and breed over the winter.

If you want to cut your lawn short for the winter, do it gradually, she said, although an extremely short grass-cutting over winter is not recommended anymore, unless you have had problems with snow mold in the past.

And although there’s still time to establish sod into November, the time to plant seed has passed, she said, because the new grass won’t have time to establish strong roots before the winter chill.

Big leaves will smother a lawn if they are left whole over the winter, but they make a great mulch if you break them up.

“They’re good in the garden (or) on your lawn,” she said. “Mulch the leaves into the lawn. They help return a lot of the nutrients back into the soil.”

Fall is a good time to start a compost pile, Gerstenberger explained, because all the leaves are great for making the correct ratio of two parts brown matter to one part green matter.

“You can save the leaves in your garage over the winter and use them to balance the compost piles next year,” she said.