Winter can certainly bring different visuals to your mind—from snow and ice to droughty periods of the Southeast, or just a general dormancy of turf and ornamentals.
Irrespective of your locale, there are still tasks to be tackled. Many of those jobs will help properties get off to a great start for the ensuing year. Overseeding is complete and most routine maintenance operations are slowing or coming to halt in many parts of the country. Many areas are gearing up for snow and ice battles, and others will look to construction projects for perpetuating revenue, but there are other key aspects that will help generate invoices.
Managing Soil Health
Fall into winter represents a great time for addressing soil issues or just starting the soil testing process. Proper soil lab analysis is the only way to confidently determine what the needs of the soil are.
In most cases, the lab will return the results with detected levels of phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), which are vital to plant health.
Some tests will measure for secondary macronutrients calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S). More advanced testing can reveal values like CEC—cation exchange capacity—which is the soil’s ability to hold nutrients in the soil profile. Also, percentage of organic matter (OM) and pH, which is a measure of the soil’s acidity or alkalinity.
Soil pH will be the most important factor in understanding what nutrients are available to the plant. Armed with these results, one can best manage any deficiencies through the fall and winter months. Fall is also a particularly good time to address pH issues. Additionally, the fall to wintertime period is advisable for soil testing because fertilizer applications are suspended especially where growth slows and it will not have an effect on soil testing results.
Shrub and Tree-Pruning Programs
Fall and winter can be a great time to prune trees and shrubs for a couple of reasons. First, one can visualize the overall shape of the plant and prune to fit the expected look. It will also be easier to see damage, crossing or rubbing branches, and other troubled areas which should be managed.
Trimming of landscape plants and shrubs will help reduce the capture of blowing leaves, which will alleviate some spring cleanup efforts. Also, some plants that flower on next year’s wood will display a better floral effect. Make sure to identify species to separate those that flower on new wood vs. old wood to make sure those are not pruned in the fall.
Landscape Plant Preservation
Winter not only brings cold conditions, it is also well known for drying winds. Many plants tolerate cold temperatures but can be sensitive to dry conditions and may be damaged or killed due to desiccation. This drying effect can contribute to both turf and landscape plant death. Areas of turf lacking snow cover can be particularly at risk.
The second component that may be involved in desiccation is soil temperature. When soils freeze, the available moisture cannot be taken up as the plant needs it.
There are a few ideas to preserve focal plant materials. Consider wraps like burlap to high-value, particularly sensitive species. Another option for wind-sensitive plants is TransFilm. This product falls into a category called anti-transpirants. Its function is to cover leaves with a thin, water-impermeable layer to decrease the rate of transpiration, which reduces water loss.
One application in the late fall or early winter should help protect sensitive plants in windy environments through the season. Additionally, soil applications of Hydretain will help manage moisture in the rootzone to prevent plant loss from desiccation.
Landscape Bed Prep
Going a step further in landscape preservation is prepping the actual bed areas. Fall mulching is a great way to help plantings through the winter. Quality mulches will replicate what occurs on the forest floor, including replenishment of organic material and nutrients.
As a secondary benefit, mulch will help protect tender roots and insulate sensitive plants from harsh winter conditions. It also will help maintain moisture in the soil, aiding in the prevention of water loss. Lastly, mulch will do a great job in preventing weed germination and growth.
Looking back to the spring, there were many weeds present which had germinated during the cooler temperatures of the fall and winter. Mulch will help prevent those winter annual weeds from germinating and taking over beds. You can also consider fall applications of preemergent herbicides.
Late-Season Landscape Ornamental Pest Management
Fall and winter seasons are optimum for dormant oil applications. These are non-pesticidal materials that will smother and kill most insects. These will also prevent unprotected eggs from hatching.
This is great for scale insects and other invaders that happen to be present. The mechanical nature requires direct contact with the target pest to be effective, so complete coverage is necessary. Because it is being applied during the dormant season, there is little to no potential for burn or phytotoxicity, and little chance for off, or non-target insect kill, especially bees.
Other advantages include that these oils are safe for humans and wildlife, and no specialized equipment is needed. There are some potential drawbacks in that there is no residual effect, they can burn sensitive plants and strip the blue color from blue evergreens, and they should not be used on new growing shoots.
Temperatures also limit when they can be used—they should not be applied at over 90 F or during freeze events. Horticultural or dormant oils may also cover some fungal spores or other fruiting bodies, reducing pressure from some diseases.
Make sure to read and understand the label before using horticultural oils.
Lean on Us for More Helpful Ideas
There are many other options for boosted income late in the season, from seed to holiday lighting. Lean on your Ewing resources for the help and support you need. You also can find a wealth of business ideas and solutions in our blog and YouTube video libraries, Ewing Education course offerings, and newsletters.
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