Raking leaves

A teen boy rakes leaves in the fall.

OGDEN — After a long, hot summer of working in the yard, the last thing any of us wants to do is even more yard work.

Still, the experts tell us now is an important time to “winterize” our yards. (Yeah. As if nature hadn’t already been winterizing on its own — without our help — for eons of time.)

For those a bit confused about just exactly what “winterizing” means, here’s a handy-dandy short list of chores to do in the yard before the snow flies:

1. Like your young children, your trees just want a drink of water before they go to bed. (And maybe a story.)

The No. 1 tip from Mike Pace, the Brigham City horticulturist with the Utah State University Extension Service, is to make sure trees and shrubs aren’t stressing about water going into the winter. A thirsty tree is more susceptible to diseases and pests.

Britney Hunter, horticulturist for the Utah State University Extension Service in Davis County, concurs.

“What affects a lot of trees in Utah is winter injury,” Hunter says. “And winter injury is worse if a tree is drought-stressed.”

So make sure you give trees a good drink.

Hunter says a rule of thumb is to let your sprinkler run for about an hour, soaking down a good eight to 10 inches. And note that the “really important roots” are out near the edge of the tree canopy, so don’t just water up against the tree’s trunk.

Oh, and one more thing: Make sure your trees get that drink before the leaves come off. Once they’re gone, the wicking action that draws water and nutrients up through the roots has ceased to operate.

2. How low can you mow?

While horticulturists encourage folks to keep their lawns nice and long during the summer months — which makes them healthier and more drought-tolerant — just the opposite is recommended during the winter. If grass is long and “lays over” with snow atop it, it can become matted and develop diseases — especially snow mold, Pace says.

To avoid that, user your lawnmower’s lowest setting for the last cut of the season, in late October or early November.

3. Clean up the dead stuff.

Pull up or cut back your dead plants, like flowering annuals and the vegetation in the garden, Pace says. Otherwise, any diseases or pests in this year’s plants might carry through the winter.

4. Don’t prune trees now (unless it’s an emergency).

In the aftermath of the recent tornado/windstorm in Weber County, plenty of folks are worried about whether they should trim back trees near the house. Resist that urge, Pace says. Pruning stimulates new growth, at a time when trees should be going dormant. Of course, if you have broken branches hanging down or a tree is diseased, get that taken care of, Pace says.

When in doubt about a potentially house-damaging tree, Hunter recommends getting an expert to look at it. Visit UtahUrbanForest.org to find a list of certified arborists, who might be able to give you some peace of mind.

The best time to prune your trees, by the way? Late winter and early spring.

5. Feed me, Seymour.

While now isn’t a good time to fertilize trees and shrubs, it’s the perfect time for lawns. Turf grasses are a cool-season plant, so give them some nitrogen fertilizer, Hunter says.

6. Let us spray.

A lot of people don’t realize that now is a good time to spray for lawn weeds — especially those hard-to-kill culprits like morning glory, mallow, dandilions and other perennial problem weeds.

7. Swaddle those young trees.

Wrapping young trees with tree wrap — available at nurseries and home-improvement stores — can prevent their trunks from cracking during winter’s harsh freeze-and-thaw cycle, Hunter says. She recommends it for any trees between one inch and six inches in diameter. (Rule of thumb: If you can wrap your hands around the trunk and your fingers and thumbs touch, it’s probably still young enough for swaddling.)

8. Don’t leave the leaves.

When the leaves finally do come off the trees, make sure you rake, mow or vacuum them up so they don’t smother the lawn. But don’t just send them to the landfill, horticulturists advise; they’re valuable for improving the soil, and easy to compost.

9. Still confused? Get the app.

If you’re still a bit confused on winterizing — or any other outdoor gardening tips — visit garden.usu.edu, and check out their printable checklists of monthly gardening tips. (There are 21 tasks for October, the busiest month for gardening. But take heart — by December, you’re down to just six.)

Even better, you can download all sorts of yard and garden apps for your smartphone or other Apple/Android mobile device. Among the apps available at the Extension Service’s website are: “Common Weeds of the Yard and Garden,” “Fruit Pestfinder,” “Growing Vegetables,” “Tree Browser,” “Gardener’s Almanac,” and “Utah TRAPs” (“Temperature Resource and Alerts for Pests”).

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEMarkSaal.

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