Maryland winters can be unpredictable. Some winters see very little snow, and other years we truly get dumped on. From a balmy January thaw to the polar vortex, it pays to be prepared. Harsh winter weather can really do a number on your landscape and hardscape, unless you take some steps to protect your investment.
Fall is probably the best time to prepare your yard for winter. Remember that winter doesn’t actually start officially until December 21, so if it takes you until early December to get all of these things done, you should be fine. We also list some things you should and should not do once the snow and ice of Old Man Winter arrives.
Things to Do Now
There are things you can do right now to prepare your landscape for the winter. As far as leaves go, you can rake and bag them, or use a mulching mower to mow over them and allow the remnants to decompose over the winter. The main thing is you don’t want a blanket of leaves smothering your grass over the winter. Consider letting some leaves stay in certain beds to allow beneficial insects a place to overwinter.
This is not something you have to do every year, and not at all if you mulched in the spring or summer. But do take a look at your mulch. If it’s about two inches deep, you’re good. That’s what most flowers, shrubs and trees need over the winter to help protect their root systems and help retain moisture. Be careful to keep the mulch about an inch away from trunk of a tree or shrub to prevent suffocation.
Young trees, especially, need protection from hungry mice, rabbits and deer. Wrapping young tree trunks with plastic tubing or brown paper also protects the tree from sun scald, which is what happens when the tree bark warms up during the day and freezes at night. This causes the bark to split, which in turn damages the health of the tree overall. You would remove the wrap in the spring. Older trees generally can protect themselves.
Cover Tender Plants
Hardy perennials don’t need much help over the winter, but you may want to cover tender plants such as azaleas and rhododendrons with burlap. Avoid touching the foliage by setting up stakes around the plant and then draping the burlap over the stakes and securing with staples. You would remove the burlap as the weather gets warmer, but leave the stakes in case there’s a late cold snap.
Winterize Your Irrigation System and Any Water Features
Drain and blow out the pipes in your irrigation system. Read our blog on winterizing your water features for more information on ponds and fountains.
Protect Patio Furniture
Cover or store patio furniture to protect it from mold, mildew, and cracking due to cold. Covers should be specially designed for your furniture.
Things to Do When the Snow and Ice Hit
There are some things you can do in the middle of winter that will help your landscape and hardscape come through relatively unscathed.
When Clearing Snow from Your Driveway, Walkways and Patio
If you have a paver driveway and paver walkways, or a paver patio, you need to be especially careful when clearing snow so that you don’t ding the pavers. Consider using a plastic shovel instead of a metal shovel. If you’re using a snow blower, you may want to think about installing a rubber or plastic piece to keep the metal on the snow blower from making contact with the pavers. The same advice holds for stamped concrete.
To protect your investment in pavers, do not use common rock salt as a de-icer. The brine and salt residue can damage your pavers or the seal on your stamped concrete, Brine can enter even the smallest crack or non-porous surface and then re-freeze, causing cracking. Rock salt can also damage plants. Consider using a de-icer such as calcium chloride or calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), which is an eco-friendly alternative that is safe for children, pets and plants. You may find this Ice-Melt Comparison chart from Consumer Reports helpful.
Clear Heavy Snow If it’s Weighing Down Trees and Shrubs
If, after a heavy show, you see that snow is causing branches or entire shrubs to bend under the weight, consider donning your boots and taking a broom with you into the snow, and gently knock off or brush off the snow. This will allow the branches or shrub to recover from the weight, and can prevent damage. Arbor vitae and evergreen shrubs are particularly susceptible to snow weighing them down.
Preparing your landscape and hardscape for harsh winter weather is pretty easy, and a lot of it is common sense. You can enjoy the Winter Wonderland knowing you have done your best.