Help Squad: Prepare your garden for winter in August

You’re at that point in the summer when you feel like you can finally sit back and enjoy your garden. Everything is established and blooming, and aside from the occasional weeding, the hard work of prepping and planting is done. But are there some things you could be doing right now, in August, that would ensure your garden is protected for the winter and has a head start for next spring?

To answer that question, Help Squad turned to Peter Morjal, longtime owner of Acorn Landscaping in Niles, for some recommendations. He advises the following:

Watch plants for signs of stress, such as wilting leaves. Basically anything in excess is not good and can result in a serious wilt. Avoid too much fertilizer, too much or too little water, and too much or too little sun. Re-plant potted plants that have become root-bound, and watch for signs of disease indicated by wilted, discolored and/or spotted leaves.

Inspect rose bushes for black spot (round black spots found on the surface of a bush’s leaves that result in the surrounding foliage turning yellow and falling off). This fungus can weaken the plant not just for the current season but the following season as well, and it becomes more prevalent when weather is consistently humid, as it tends to be in the Chicago area in August. To avoid, minimize overexposure to moisture: be sure bushes are planted in full sun with good circulation, don’t over-water and remove infected leaves from both the plant and garden bed.

Trim trees, shrubs and bushes that have already flowered. Though it may be tempting to prune these plants in the spring because you want to get a head start on your gardening, it is best to trim them after they have bloomed, in July or August, as many trees and bushes establish their buds in the fall for the next season.

Check your mulch. Beds should be covered in a two- to three-inch layer to control weed growth, prevent water from evaporating from the soil and maintain a constant soil temperature. This is important in the summer as well as the winter, as mulch will protect roots close to the surface from both excessive heat and freezing, so be sure to have a good layer on before the cold weather arrives. Decomposing mulch also adds organic nutrients to the soil.

Deadhead spent annuals and perennials (trim or pinch off the plants’ brown or withered flowers). The reason deadheading is important is that more flowers are produced only when a plant senses there are no dead or dying flowers available for re-seeding. This has two benefits: plants continue to bloom through the end of the season and they are healthier going into the fall and winter.

A beautiful, healthy garden is incomplete if the lawn surrounding it is sub-par, so Morjal concludes with the following pointers for a strong, healthy lawn:

Cut grass to a height of no less than three inches to discourage weeds from germinating and to establish deep roots.

Water grass at least once per week in the early morning. Done late in the day, blades stay wet overnight, running a greater risk of developing fungus. The result is comparable to putting a baby to bed with a wet diaper.

Let clippings stay on your lawn to recycle. Contrary to popular belief, this does not cause thatch build-up. Clippings are full of nutrients that, as they decompose, are added back into the soil.

Core aerate, over-seed and fertilize mid-August to mid-September to repair any damage summer may have caused and prepare your lawn for winter.

By following these few simple steps now you will help to ensure that your lawn and plants are blooming to their fullest. The added bonus is that you may also eliminate the need to spend money in the spring to treat and replace flora damaged by another harsh winter!

Need help?

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