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Be winter-ready with this last-minute yard and garden checklist

Miss out on preparing your lawn and garden before the cold weather arrived? Don Kinzler shares tips and a last-minute checklist so you can be ready for spring.

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Rabbits can ruin arborvitae. Fencing is the best deterrent.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum
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Did you hear about the two guys who were caught stealing a calendar? They each got six months.

The months fly by and November transitions to winter. Even if you didn’t get everything accomplished while the weather was nice, it’s not too late to finish a few tasks that can be lifesaving for trees, shrubs, perennial flowers and lawns.

Even if there’s snow on the ground, some yard care duties should still be accomplished, if at all possible, because we can still prevent damage that happens in December, January and February.

Following is a last-minute checklist to help plants survive the upcoming winter months:

  • Rabbits can ruin fruit trees and some shrubs in late fall and winter when other food sources become snow-covered. Besides apple, plum and pear trees, vulnerable shrubs include rose, arborvitae, hydrangea, spirea, burning bush and raspberry. Fencing is the most reliable deterrent, but repellents like Liquid Fence and Plantskydd have proven successful for many homeowners. 
  • Because soil will soon be freezing solid, pound stakes or posts in the ground very soon if protective fencing is desired. 
  • The time to add protective mulch around roses, strawberries, and tender perennials is after soil has started to freeze in November. Add 12 to 24 inches of leaves, straw or shredded wood to keep plants comfortably frozen but insulated from extreme cold.  
  • Check to be sure water hoses are disconnected from outdoor spigots and watering wands and nozzles are drained.  
  • Move yard and garden liquid herbicides and insecticides to a location that won’t freeze. Garages, unless reliably kept above freezing, are poor locations for winter storage of liquid chemicals, most of which are ruined by freezing. Because many chemicals exude objectionable odors once the original seal is broken, enclose the containers in tightly sealed plastic bags if moving the chemicals to a basement or other living space.  
  • If possible, remove dead plants from outdoor containers. If soil is frozen solid, next spring will work too, but disposing of the old plants and roots in fall helps reduce disease potential.
  • Voles, the grayish brown short-tailed field mice, can ruin trees and shrubs as they gnaw bark and damage lawns as they tunnel below snow cover. Repellents give mixed results. Besides natural predators, the most effective controls are traps baited with peanut butter or peanuts, or poisoned baits placed in lengths of PVC pipe to keep the baits away from humans or pets. Wire mesh hardware cloth with quarter-inch openings can be circled around tree trunks.
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Rodent baits and traps prevent winter vole damage.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

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  • It’s not too late to cover tree trunks to prevent winter sunscald damage to thin-barked trees, since most damage occurs from December on. Especially vulnerable are fruit trees, maples, lindens and trees less than five years old. Garden centers sell tree wrapping material, including the common white tube-like cylinders.  
  • It’s easy to neglect garden tools at the end of the season, but good quality tools can last a lifetime with proper care. Scrape away excess soil, finishing with steel wool or sandpaper and give a light coat of oil to prevent rust. Rub wooden handles with a mixture of equal parts linseed oil and turpentine.
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Protect tools with steel wool and a mixture of turpentine and linseed oil.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

  • Before solidly frozen soil makes it impossible, drive wooden stakes or other labels to mark the locations of young perennials or bulbs, so you know where to expect them to emerge next spring.  
  • Although I’m certain I’ll remember which cultivars of flowers and vegetables performed best this summer, I often forget by the following spring. Write them down now, while the memories are fresh.
More gardening columns from Don Kinzler

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu.
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