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20 things to do now to winterize your yard and garden

Tender perennials and newly planted items benefit from a mulch of leaves or straw applied in early November. David Samson / Forum News Service1 / 4
Early November is the ideal time for winter preparations around your yard and garden. David Samson / Forum News Service2 / 4
Asparagus tops are best left intact during winter. David Samson / Forum News Service3 / 4
Rodent bait packs are handy for controlling winter vole damage to yards. David Samson / Forum News Service4 / 4

FARGO—Friend Bill recently repeated humor heard during drought years about it being so dry two trees were fighting over a dog. Luckily this year's fall rains have been plentiful in much of the region, giving plants good moisture heading into winter.

Watering before freeze-up during dry spells is included on the following checklist of final tasks to prepare yard and garden for winter.

-- Before soil freezes solid, which can happen by mid-November or earlier, anything we've purchased but didn't get planted needs immediate attention. All potted trees, shrubs, bulbs and perennials are better in the ground rather than attempting to overwinter unplanted. If an item can't go in its permanent spot, sink pot and all temporarily into the soil of a sheltered flowerbed or garden.

-- Although the recommended season-long mowing height for lawns is 3 inches, the final mowing can be shorter. Long, matted grass is more prone to molding during winter and provides more shelter to voles, which do their lawn damage under winter snow.

-- Protect against vole damage around yard with rodent bait. I've found "place packs" of bait to be handy and effective.

-- Collect seeds of cleome, four o'clock, zinnia, marigold, cosmos, rudbeckia and other flowers before the seeds are dispersed by nature. Allow to dry, then store tightly in closed containers in the refrigerator.

-- Final cleanup in the vegetable garden helps reduce next season's disease and insect problems because many organisms overwinter on plant refuse in and around the soil. It's especially important to dispose of tomato, potato, squash, cucumber, melons peas, pepper and bean plants.

-- Carefully remove seed-bearing weeds to prevent seed from being scattered during fall and winter.

-- Annual flower beds are usually easier to clean now instead of waiting until spring.

-- The tops of most perennial flowers and ornamental grasses are best left intact during winter. They'll catch insulating snow, resulting in better winter survival, especially for types that are borderline in hardiness. Exceptions are types prone to foliage diseases like peonies, phlox and hollyhocks, which should have foliage cut to ground level and removed. Iris, hosta and daylily foliage is better cut back in fall because they turn mushy over winter.

-- Tender perennials and strawberries can be mulched with 12 inches or more of leaves or straw in early November. Protective mulch keeps soil uniformly cold, preventing damaging cycles of freezing and thawing, which tears roots and can heave plants out of the soil. Mulch insulates soil against severe cold, especially during winters that lack insulating snow cover.

-- Asparagus tops are best left intact during winter and removed in early spring. Rhubarb stems become mushy during winter, so can be cleaned up in fall if desired.

-- Rake and remove rose leaves to reduce foliage diseases like black spot and powdery mildew.

-- Cover tender hybrid tea roses in early November after a series of hard freezes. Styrofoam rose cones aren't usually adequate alone, but filling them with leaves greatly increases their insulating ability.

-- Truly hardy shrub roses don't require winter covering, although mulching can help them become taller by preventing dieback of stems that might extend above the protective snow cover. Use circles of chicken wire filled with leaves or straw. Not all roses labeled "hardy" survive northern winters unprotected, but might suffer branch dieback, regrowing from near ground level, including the Floral Carpet and Knockout series.

-- Soil in gardens and flowerbeds benefits from a final tilling or spading. Turning the soil over before freeze-up helps kill insects and disease organisms by exposing them to winter cold. Heavy clay soil becomes more mellow if tilled before freeze-up.

-- Tree leaves can be composted rather than hauled to yard waste collection sites, or spread them on gardens and flowerbeds and work in.

-- A thin layer of leaves may be left on the lawn and pulverized with a lawn mower. They'll filter into the grass's root zone where they'll decompose into beneficial organic matter.

-- Wrap tree trunks to prevent winter sunscald from damaging thin-barked trees on sunny winter days when south- and west-facing trunk surfaces thaw from reflective sun. Freezing and thawing tears bark and causes trunk cracks. Especially vulnerable are fruit trees, maples, lindens and trees less than 5 years old. Remove wraps in spring.

-- Soil from patio pots and containers can be saved and reused next spring with a little new added, if it's a high-quality mix. Remove soil from breakable pots that could be cracked if wet soil freezes and expands.

-- If moisture is lacking, water evergreens and recently planted materials before soil freezes.

-- Take a few minutes to write down plant names of perennials, trees and shrubs in case labels are lost during winter.