Wintry Weather Preparations

Sept. 1, 2007
Take your landscaping plans to the next season

Autumn has arrived, relieving summer's sweltering heat and gracing us with brilliant landscape hues, but facilities managers must ensure that crucial winter preparations are complete before Old Man Winter returns. By now, your snow- and ice-control plans should be finalized, and implementation of your winterization plans should commence during fall's warmer days - before temperatures drop below 50-degrees F.

Ensuring that your service providers complete the following winterization steps before the first freeze will save you additional maintenance costs and repair headaches come spring ...

  • Schedule new plantings in early fall for best results. Research has shown that roots will continue growing through the cold season until the soil freezes. Fall's cool, moist weather makes it the optimal time to enhance your landscape with ornamental trees and shrubs.
  • Continue mowing throughout the season. Although turf growth may slow in the fall months, it should be mowed until growth stops completely.
  • Fertilize in late fall. The roots of cool-season grasses, like Tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass, will absorb fertilizer and store it through the winter. If applied properly (when the grass growth ceases, but the roots remain active), your lawn will be lush and green early next spring, and should survive winter's stresses due to enhanced root growth and carbohydrate storage.
  • Collect leaves from lawn and planting beds. Leaves and other debris left on your property may cause insect infestations and dead spots, hinder future growth, and pose a safety threat.
  • Prune deciduous trees and shrubs. As leaves fall, pruning becomes more exact as technicians can better assess budding, nodules, and overall plant shape, allowing for a strong, healthy bud set next season. It's important to note that pruning prematurely may instigate new growth, which may then be subject to frost damage and stunting.
  • Cut perennials and remove annuals. After perennials have finished blooming, it's important to remove old blossoms to prevent plant energy from going into seed production. Later in the fall, dead growth (and annuals) should be removed to minimize over-wintering diseases and eliminate breeding places for insects. A clean bed will add curb appeal to the planting bed.

Irrigation systems are also a top concern because they're most prone to avoidable winter damage that can be costly (and can cause your landscape and curb appeal to suffer), potentially negatively affecting your spring traffic and sales. Ensure that these steps are taken when winterizing your irrigation systems this fall:

  • Disable the water supply.
  • Drain and tag backflow preventers.
  • Drain all valves and leave them partially open.
  • Blow out the system, or utilize previously installed automatic drain valves, to ensure that all water is removed from pipes and sprinkler heads.
  • Turn off automatic controllers and power.

Facilities in Southern regions should protect the exposed components of their irrigation systems. Consult your service provider for assistance with this modified process.

With adequate planning and emergency procedures finalized before winter's arrival, your operations will be more equipped to handle and overcome problems that may arise once the mercury falls.

Kevin Dent is CEO at DENTCO (, a DeWitt, MI-based national Exterior Services Management® company.

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