Winter Chores in the Landscape

Source(s): Robert R Westerfield, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Extension Horticulturist

The bleak, blustery days of winter often give us the feeling we should be working inside instead of attending to our landscapes. On the really cold days, this certainly makes sense; but there are actually a number of important tasks that should be done now to prepare our landscapes for the coming spring flush.



Begin now to prune shrubs and trees (including fruit trees) to shape them and remove dead wood. Remember to delay pruning of spring-flowering plants, such as azaleas, forsythia and spireas, until after they have finished blooming in the spring – unless they need some major overhaul pruning. Severe pruning is best done in February before new growth begins.

This is also a good time to check the condition of our pruning equipment. Now is the perfect time to inspect and sharpen any dull blades. Learn to use a small file or sharpening stone and stay away from the electric grinders.


Although the ideal time to transplant shrubs and small trees may have been in late fall, you can still move plants now through early spring. The three keys to successful transplanting are: 1) transplant shrubs and trees when the ground is not too moist or soggy; 2) dig and move transplants with as many intact roots as possible; and 3) prepare the planting hole as well as possible.

Taking as much of the original root ball as practical will greatly aid in reducing transplant shock. One useful trick to use when transplanting a shrub or tree a short distance in the yard is to have a flat piece of cardboard or plywood nearby. Place the removed shrub or tree on the cardboard or plywood and then simply drag the plant to the intended planting site. By doing it this way there is much less chance of losing part of the root ball because the plant is barely lifted off the ground.

Always dig the planting holes for new transplants prior to digging up the plants themselves. This reduces the amount of time the roots are exposed to drying winds and sunlight, thus helping to reduce transplant shock.

Don’t forget to water newly transplanted shrubs and trees. Transplants need a good soaking immediately after moving and additional waterings during dry or windy periods. Mulch all new transplants with a 4 inch layer of suitable material to reduce erosion.

Clean Up

Now is a great time to do some general maintenance around our flower beds. Remove any existing dead foliage from the annuals and perennials in the landscape to reduce disease reoccurence later in the year. Be sure to mark the spots where dormant perennial plants and bulbs are growing so you don’t over plant this area in the spring.

Remove old soggy mulch if it has become matted and add a few inches of fresh pine straw or pine bark. Some gardeners prefer pine bark because it remains in place and does not blow and scatter around like pine straw.

Scout the lawn for emerged winter annuals and apply the appropriate postemergent herbicide if needed. Colorful, but troublesome patches of clover, chickweed and henbit popup seemingly overnight and cover areas in the lawn. Controlling these weeds now before they produce seeds will reduce weed populations in the future.

Other Tasks

  • If your lawn was weedy last summer, now is the time to apply pre-emergent herbicide to control this summer’s weeds. Be sure to select a product labeled for the type turf grass you have. Do not use pre-emergence controls if you are planning to re-plant or reseed your lawn soon with feccue.
  • Fruit trees should be pruned in late winter. Apples and pears are pruned to an upright growth habit and central leader. Peaches are pruned to an open bowl shape.
  • Start seeds of your favorite spring garden vegetables inside now so that they are ready to plant when soil temperatures are warmer. Use a good, sterile, growing medium to start tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc. Keep seed trays where they will receive plenty of light and be sure the seeds are moist but not overly wet.
  • In the month of February, plant bare-root roses into a well amended bed. Be sure to leave the grafted crown of the plant above the soil.
  • Boxwoods and hollies may show signs of leaf miner. At first the damage appears as small holes in the leaves but later develops into elongated discolored areas. Apply a recommended systemic insecticide at the first sign of damage.
  • Hold off the temptation to fertilize warm season turf grasses until they are well into the green-up stage. Delay fertilizing ornamental shrubs until mid to late March.
  • Check fig trees for any winter cold damage and prune away affected branches. Sometimes heavy pruning is needed to remove all of the damaged wood.
  • Fertilize fruit trees in March according to soil test recommendations. Remember to begin a disease and insect spray program for all fruit trees. Continue applications at the recommended intervals until the fruit ripens. Avoid spraying when the flowers are open and keep a record of dates, amounts and chemicals used.
  • Start seeds of summer annuals such as marigolds, petunias, salvia and zinnia indoors. Do not place the transplants in the ground until all threat of frost is gone.
  • Hosta plants can be dug and split for transplanting after they begin to emerge in the spring. Watch for slugs and snails and apply recommended baits as needed to control them.
  • If you have mum plants that survive the winter, you know you don’t have to buy mums in the fall ever again. It is easy to go out in late winter and find clumps with fresh growth tight inside the old dead stems. Lift these, separate and replant – perhaps putting them in pots, where they can grow all year in a secluded nursery and be moved into place as autumn decor.
  • Recycle those old mini blinds in the garden. Cut slats into 6-8” pieces with wire snips and use a permanent marker to record seed varieties and planting dates.

Winter truly is a great time to get out in the landscape. Although it may be hard to break ourselves away from the fireplace, doing a few chores now will have our landscapes looking better this spring.


Care of Ornamental Plants in the Landscape

Bob Westerfield
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