Treat Your Fruit Trees and Shrubs with Dormant Oils

Another garden task that can be performed during the winter is spraying some of your trees and shrubs with dormant oils. There are many species that can benefit from this practice, but they are notably associated with the care of fruit trees and shrubs. Spraying them now will help your future crop production be optimal.


What Are Dormant Oils?

These products are created from petroleum and are designed to suffocate the insects that may have taken shelter in your plants for the winter. The oils form a layer on the pests that prevents them from breathing properly and hastening their demise. On some insects, the dormant oils will also actually start to eat away at their exoskeleton and inner body.

Some of these products will also help control fungal diseases that may be present in the plant. There are several different kinds available for purchase at your local garden center or nursery. The associates should be able to assist you in choosing the best option for you if you are not sure which one is necessary.

When Do You Use Dormant Oils?

As you may have figured out from the name, these products should be applied during winter when the trees and shrubs are dormant. Choose a time in the season when the temperatures are at least a bit above freezing to do your treatments. Follow the directions on the label and wear necessary safety gear like goggles and gloves.

Some insects can be very persistent, so watch for them in spring and summer to see if any survived. There are oils that can be applied in summer to help get rid of these stubborn pests.

What kinds of fruit trees and shrubs do you have in your garden? Have you used dormant oils before?

Image by sizbut under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Prune Trees and Shrubs During This Winter

While most gardening tasks do not start until the growing season begins, you can get your new year off to a good start when you prune trees and shrubs this winter. This will help them be ready for when the temperatures warm up and your landscape springs to life.

You can prune many trees and shrubs during winter

Why Prune Trees and Shrubs in Winter?

When you prune away parts of a plant properly, it can stimulate new growth to occur. If you did this process in the summer, it might be stressed due to lack of water and higher temperatures. You can do some in fall, but it needs to be earlier in the season if you do. If the tree or shrub produces new growth right before a frost, it might become damaged and hurt the plant.

If you prune them during the winter while the plants are dormant, they will naturally wait until they wake up in spring to start producing new growth. It is also often easier to see where to prune since the leaves have fallen away and the structure of the branches is revealed.

Check with us, your extension service or your local garden center to see when your various plants may need pruning and how much. Do not prune your evergreens until the end of winter or at the start of spring unless necessary, as in the case of a branch that is broken and dangerous. These species do not fully go dormant and may start sprouting in warm weather. In general, evergreens do not need much pruning period.

You will also want to wait to prune trees like maples and birches. These have high levels of sap developing early in the year and the wounds can bleed a lot if pruned too early.

Know How Much to Prune Trees and Shrubs in Your Garden

Trees, shrubs and perennials vary in how much you need or should prune them each year. Some do not need yearly pruning and can possibly even be harmed by the practice. Some like fruit trees need specific cuts to help them maintain a certain shape that is best for production and growth.  Others (some shrubs and perennials like ornamental grasses) will happily tolerate being cut right down to the ground each year and will bounce back once the temperatures rise.

As a general rule, it is fine (and necessary) to remove any parts that have become dead, diseased or damaged as they will affect the structure and health of the plant. You may need to sterilize your pruners after each plant if diseases are present.

What will you be pruning this year?

Image by barockschloss under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License

Cutting Back Perennials in Your Garden

Cutting back perennials can be done in different seasons, depending on the plant

Plants can be quite resilient. For many trees, shrubs and perennials, they can bounce back even after you prune away parts. In some cases, you can even cut them close to the ground and they will happily start growing again. In fact, they may need this step for proper health and growth.  Cutting back perennials in your garden can help them succeed when done at the proper time. How far down you go down the stem depends on which species you are working with. Check online to see the proper procedures for your specific plant before you start trimming.

When Should You Be Cutting Back Perennials?

Some people choose to trim back their perennials in the fall. They do not want to see clusters of dead foliage in the garden. Pests and diseases can also hide away in these parts and survive through the winter. Check out this detailed list of perennials to cut back in the fall to see if your plants are on the list. On the other hand, depending on the plant, some foliage can provide winter interest along with food and shelter for wildlife and birds.

You can also do some cutting back of other perennials once the plant has gone dormant in winter. This helps maintain the health of the plant since it is not actively growing. Otherwise, plants may start sending out new growth in response to cutting that would be damaged when cold spells set in.

Finally, some perennials like ornamental grasses can be pruned back during early spring. This will help them have a nice clean start to the growing season.

When do you like to start cutting back perennials in your landscape?

Image by Ava R. under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Do One Final Garden Cleanup This Month

Raking up leaves is part of your final garden cleanup

Temperatures are dropping and snowstorms are rolling through. Before you go into hibernation mode for the winter, do one final garden cleanup to end the growing season.

On a day when the snow and ice have cleared away for a moment, take a walk around your garden. If there are places where leaves have fallen, rake them up and add them to a compost pile. If you leave them where they are, it can damage the lawn by encouraging mold and other diseases to attack your grass when it is covered by snow and ice. This will also help enrich your garden next year since you can add back nutrients with the resulting compost.

If you have spring- or summer-flowering bulbs with dead leaves, you can now safely remove them to tidy up their appearance. Until they turn brown, foliage should be left even after it has stopped flowering to allow the bulb to store up food for the following year. This will also help the plant stay healthier since dead foliage can become hosts for diseases and pests that like to overwinter.

You can also do some pruning on many species of deciduous trees and shrubs once they have gone dormant for the winter. It is especially helpful that they have lost their leaves as this fact makes it easier to see problems and correct them. Do not prune evergreens as they do not fully go dormant.

Have you done a final garden cleanup yet? What other tasks do you include?

Image by sonstroem under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License

Winterize Lawn Equipment Before Storing It for the Year

Winterize your lawn equipment when you put it away in storage

Now that most of your landscape chores are finished for the year, it is time to winterize lawn equipment that you have before putting it away until your garden bounces back to life in spring. This will help them last for many years and be more efficient.

Clean and Maintain Your Lawn Mower and Other Power Equipment

Gasoline will start to go bad if it is not used within a few weeks, so you want to make sure that you either remove all of the gasoline from your power equipment or add a fuel stabilizer. Remove and replace the spark plug and oil. Check the filters to see if they need to be changed at this time. If you are not sure whether it is time, you can usually find the manual online if you do not have it handy.

Carefully take the blades off your mower and edger and sharpen them. Replace the string on your weed eater. Take a moment and thoroughly clean off all grass clippings and other debris to help ward off rust.

Clean and Sharpen All Tools

Your hand pruners and other garden tools can also use some care as you put them to rest for the year. Clean off any substances on the blades like plant clippings or sap. Look over all surfaces and make sure there are no broken parts in need of repair. Use a sharpening stone to hone the edges. Oil the metal parts to ward off rust.

Do you do any additional steps when you winterize lawn equipment at the end of the year?

Image by pegwinn under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License

Preparing for Snow Removal

There are several kinds of snow removal

With winter less than a month away, the time for snow removal is upon us. Taking it away quickly and efficiently can help keep your family safe from falls and make your landscape look tidier. There are several different common ways that you can remove snow from your landscape. 

Choose Your Snow Removal Method


When I was in college, I was on the landscaping crew. During the winter we would get called in around 3:30 am after a night of snowfall so we could clear the sidewalks before students arrived. We mostly used shovels to push away the snow. 

This can be a cheap and effective method indeed. You do want to get a good quality shovel, as it would be frustrating for it to break while you are trying to work. This also takes exertion, of course, which can be great if you are looking for some exercise. Do be careful, though; wear good gripping shoes, lift with bent knees as needed, check with a doctor if you have existing health concerns or are older, and take breaks. The National Safety Council mentions these and other tips in their Snow Shoveling safety sheet.


Another popular method for clearing sidewalks and other areas is through the use of chemicals, many of which are salts. These react with the snow and lower the melting temperature, effectively removing it as the snow and ice melt away and the water dissipates. These can be harsh on the roads, cars, plants and other objects found in the area, so consider that point when deciding.


If you have a large yard, a snowblower may be quite helpful. These pick up the snow and blow it away from the area you are trying to clear. It does not really work on parts that have turned to ice, so you will still You will also need to perform maintenance at least yearly to make sure the engine and other parts stay in good working condition and the machines are not inexpensive. Always follow proper safety protocols!

How do you do snow removal in your landscape?

Image by jmannm8400 under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License

Winter Protection for Shrubs Should Be Placed in Fall

Prep your shrubs during fall to help the, survive during the winter.

With only a little over a month left before winter officially sets in, plants are slowing down their growth and heading into dormancy. This process helps protect them from the ravages of snow and freezing temperatures, but you can help them survive better. Now is the time to do tasks like adding winter protection for shrubs.

What Can You Do for Winter Protection for Shrubs?

One problem that you can run into in your garden is sun scald. This occurs when temperatures warm up enough during the day to promote growth in the cambium area of the bark. When the weather dips down again as night falls, these sections of newer growth may become damaged. You can help the shrub avoid this problem by protecting the bark through the use of products like tree wrap. You do want to make sure that they are not dark in color as you want to have the light be deflected instead of absorbed.

Another common way to protect your shrubs, especially if they are evergreens, is to wrap them with burlap or place sheets of that fabric on poles around the plant to create a screen. This will help shield the plant from problems like temperature fluctuations, salt spray (from deicing products), wind burn and ice or snow. Gently bring the branches together as possible towards the middle and wrap the burlap around it. Remove it promptly in the spring when the temperatures start to warm up.

How do you protect your shrubs in the winter?

Image by Unhindered by Talent under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Plant Your Spring Flowering Bulbs in the Fall

Snowdrops are one type of spring flowering bulb

When I think of spring, flowers like snowdrops and crocuses come to mind. These are some of the earliest plants to produce blossoms and will help signal that winter is almost over. However, you need to plant your spring flowering bulbs during fall to make sure they will start growing properly.

Why Are Spring Flowering Bulbs Planted in the Fall?

At first glance, it would seem natural to plant bulbs much like you would seeds, placing them at the start of spring. However, these plants have evolved so that they need a period of cold weather to happen before they will start growing. They have spent the previous summer storing up nutrients for this event and will be ready to go when the weather starts to warm up.

You can achieve this naturally by choosing the sites where you would like them to appear in the spring and planting them now. The depth needed will vary by species and the package should tell you how to perform this task.

What Are Some Popular Spring Flowering Bulbs to Try?

There are a wide variety of colors and shapes available when it comes to these types of bulbs. They bloom at different periods throughout the season, so try getting a variety that spans across spring to extend the color possibilities. Some common options are:

  • Allium
  • Anemone
  • Crocus
  • Daffodil
  • Freesia
  • Hyacinth
  • Lily-of-the-Valley
  • Paperwhite
  • Snowdrop
  • Tulip

What is your favorite kind of spring flowering bulb to plant?

Image by elPadawan under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Fall Fertilizing Should Be Done by November 30th


One of the garden tasks that can be done at this time of year is fertilization. It can help your grass and other plants get the nutrients they need to have good new growth and prepare for dormancy in winter. However, you do not want to do it too late in the year. Your fall fertilizing should be completed by the end of November at the latest to avoid problems.

Why Is There a Deadline for Fertilization?

When a plant is given fertilizer, new growth is encouraged and enhanced since they have access to necessary nutrients. This can be a good process, of course, as you try to help your garden flourish. However, if tender new shoots appear and they are hit by frost and otherwise chilly temperatures, damage or even death of the plant (if extensive enough) can occur. Allowing time for the fertilizer to work and the plant to get new growth started will contribute to a higher success rate in your garden.

A good average cutoff date for fall fertilizing in this area (New York) is November 30th. Your grass won’t be trying to put out new shoots in the dead of winter when it is coldest and should have enough time to get a good start. If you do miss this deadline, simply wait until the temperatures start to warm up again in spring.

Give us a call today to get an appointment for your garden fertilizing needs this fall!

Image by Boston Public Library under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Winterize Your Sprinkler System as Part of Your Fall Garden Task List

Use your sprinkler shut off valve when you winterize your sprinkler system

Now that the temperatures are starting to drop and your supplemental watering needs are dropping, it is time to winterize your sprinkler system. This is an essential step to keep it in good working condition for years to come.

Why Should You Winterize Your Sprinkler System?

Every year during fall, you need to empty all of the water out of your sprinkler pipes before freezing weather hits. If there is still liquid present during a cold spell, it can turn into ice, expanding in the process. When it thaws, it will contract and reduce in size. This phenomenon can result in the pipes bursting from the stress, especially if they are made from PVC. This would be a very unwelcome surprise when you turn it back on in the spring as you would need to take time and money to find the leaks and repair the system.

How Do You Winterize Your Sprinkler System?

Note: Since this procedure can involve a lot of water at high pressures, you need to follow safety procedures like wearing goggles and staying a safe distance away. We would also be happy to help you complete this process if you like.

Winterizing your sprinkler system can sometimes be as simple as manually letting the water drain out if your garden has been designed for it, but in many cases, you will need to blow out the system to ensure that all of the water is out. An air compressor is used and you keep the control valves open so that you do not break the pipes.  You can see details on the procedure in this article from Rainbird. Be very careful when doing this process to keep yourself safe and the system undamaged.

Have you winterized your sprinkler system yet?
Image by quinn.anya under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License