Pruning, Mowing Top Late-Season Checklist for Homeowners’ Winter Yard Preparation

The race against time has begun for many homeowners, as they rush to clean up and prepare yards before winter arrives in all its cold, snowy fury.

The list isn’t long: Rake leaves. Cut grass. Prune plantings. None are complex. All are essential.

Complicating these tasks, though, is an unseasonal volume of leaves clinging stubbornly to trees. Higher moisture levels, and later-than-normal freezes, have left an unusual amount of foliage still hanging on, said Todd Ruedt, a Brookfield resident and owner of Grounds Maintenance Services.

Nonetheless, homeowners shouldn’t wait. Winter draws closer every day. Leaves already fallen should be removed from lawns and planting beds, Ruedt said. An early snow could trap leaves beneath, killing grass in lawns and inviting fungus growth in planting beds.

A final late-season lawn mowing is in order. Grass should be cut down to a 2-inch blade height, Ruedt said, up to an inch shorter than normal. Doing so prevents snow mold during winter, and excess thatch in spring. Mowing also mulches leaves, helping them decompose and enrich soil.

“Contrary to common belief, grass growth is controlled by ground temperature, not air temperature,” Ruedt said. “The ground hasn’t yet frozen, but has reached the 50-degree mark that nearly halts grass activity. It’s a good time to get in that final cut, which is critical to long-term lawn health.”

The dropping mercury has lulled plants into dormancy, the optimal time for pruning. Deciduous plants – those with leaves – can be safely trimmed back.

Pruning should be done with great care. Sharp tools are essential to avoid ragged, injurious cuts. Chemical sealant sprays (“pruning paint”) are unnecessary. Nature heals pruning done properly.

Despite spring being months away, most plants have already set their buds for their annual rejuvenation. Live branches on bushes and trees should be trimmed to just above the lowest bud on the branch. Dead, discolored branches and shoots can be completely removed.

Evergreens should be left alone. Because they grow year-round, pruning this late opens them to a risk of winter burn, Ruedt said. Evergreens should not be pruned after October.

Founded in 1999, Grounds Maintenance Services offers fall clean-up services, landscaping and yard maintenance, plus in-home Christmas tree delivery, holiday lighting setup and snow plowing. Its professional staff prides itself on helping homeowners grow their dreams, one yard at a time.

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