Cold Hard Facts

Local pros share seven steps you can take now to ensure your yard survives the winter unscathed.
Those dark lake-effect clouds that signal the beginning of another winter have a shiny silver lining if you're tired of mowing grass and pulling weeds. Although you won't have to do anymore yard work after the snow starts to fall, there are a few things you have to do now if you want your lawn and landscaping to not only survive the cold weather but also thrive in the spring. We asked some local experts to help us create this to-do list for winterizing like a pro.
Aerate the lawn.
Robert Palmer of Weed Pro in Sheffield Village says hollow-core aeration — a process that creates holes and fractures in the soil by removing 2- to 3-inch-long plugs from it — is one of the most important things you can do for your lawn. It promotes proper drainage, fertilization and root growth.

Reduce turf-grass height.
Although maintaining your grass at a height of 3 to 3 1/2 inches during the spring and summer helps it withstand extreme heat and lack of rain, the extra growth is actually a detriment in the winter. Palmer explains that longer blades are more susceptible to snow mold, a fungus that develops under heavy, compacted snow. "We generally try to mow turf grasses down to 1 1/2 to 2 inches," he says. The reduction, he adds, should be made gradually, beginning when growth decreases by 30 or 40 percent.

Prune trees and shrubs.
The ideal time to make horticultural nips and tucks is as plants prepare to go into dormancy, according to Frank Monteleone, Midwest business development manager for the Commercial Grounds Management Division of the Davey Tree Expert Co. in Kent. Wait until spring, and you'll be thwarting the growth process, even cutting off eagerly awaited ornamental blooms. "It's going to stress the plant out for the whole season," he says. "It's sealing the cuts, protecting the wounds and trying to grow."

Winterize water features.

Ted Ferrante, a maintenance supervisor for Impullitti Landscaping in Burton, keeps leaves out of small ornamental ponds by covering them with bird netting draped over stakes and secured. "An abundance of decaying organic matter creates a potentially harmful imbalance," he warns. Keeping the bubbler going or installing a floating heater in fish ponds will prevent a small section from freezing over, allowing harmful gases to escape. Fountains should be dismantled and moved to a heated space. Ferrante advises storing pumps for large fountains in garbage cans filled with distilled water to prevent seals from drying out.

Fertilize turf grass and landscape plants.
Palmer says root development begins as plant growth slows in the fall. The benefits of a strong root system are particularly evident in turf grasses. They stay greener later into the fall and regain their color earlier in the spring. Palmer recommends do-it-yourselfers apply slow-release granular turf-grass and ornamental fertilizers according to package directions in late October or early November, when plants can make use of the nutrients before they go dormant.

Apply an antidesiccant to evergreens.
Ferrante explains that the nontoxic oil-based coating, available in pump-spray bottles, helps tree needles retain moisture during months of exposure to drying cold and wind. Palmer recommends applying the antidesiccant on a November day when the trees are devoid of surface moisture and there's no threat of rain or snow for at least 20 to 30 minutes after spraying.

Deer-proof everything.
Physical barriers are necessary when snows make it difficult to spray the repellents that help keep deer away during the rest of the year. Ferrante suggests covering your particularly inviting landscape beds, hemlocks, arborvitaes and rhododendrons in visually unobtrusive bird netting secured with twist ties. Wrapping in burlap is an alternative that also provides protection against road salt and wind. In rural areas with a history of extensive grazing damage, Ferrante erects deer fencing, a heavy black plastic grid 6 to 7 feet high, around the perimeter of properties. He concedes that burlap and deer fencing detract from curb appeal. "But a certain number of our clients leave for the winter, so they're not really concerned about aesthetics," he says. "It really is a case-by-case decision."
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