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Fall Home & Car Care: It’s time to winterize plants and gardens

Fall Home & Car Care: It's time to winterize plants and gardens
Fall is a good time to prune your bushes and shrubs to get them into the right shape and size for next year’s growing season. (Metro Image Library)
By James Grob,

Contrary to popular belief, tending to your lawn, plants, trees and flowers is not strictly spring and summer work. There’s more to do in the autumn than just rake the leaves.

Just ask Jeff Otto at Otto’s Oasis in Charles City. There is a lot of work that can — and should — be done in the fall.

“We tend to do most of our pruning in the fall,” Otto said. “Fall is also a good time to add mulch to your perennial beds.”

Pruning, mulching, winterizing, trimming, weed-killing and even planting — the only thing you shouldn’t do in the fall, according to Otto, is wait too long.

“You’ll want to get a lot of this done before it freezes up,” he said.

Otto started landscaping back in 1985 when he was in high school and the site that is now Otto’s Oasis was known as “Floral Expressions.”

“That puts a few years on me,” said Otto, who bought the place in 2007 and now runs it with his wife. “It’s really all I know.”

Among many other things, Otto’s Oasis has a full florist service for weddings, funerals, birthdays and holidays with four custom designers, a show room full of home decor gifts and a greenhouse full of plants grown on site, lawn and garden decor. The business, open year round, also has a full-service landscape and maintenance service.

So Otto knows what he’s talking about when he says fall is a good time to put landscape plants in the ground.

“Make sure your plants go into the freeze well-watered,” he said. “You don’t want to go in dry. They don’t hold up to the winter winds and colder temperatures as well when they’re dry.”

For outdoor plants that are brought inside for the winter so they don’t freeze, Otto advises people to get them in before the outdoor temperature drops below freezing, and treat them with a soil insecticide.

“That way you don’t bring bugs in with you,” he said. “When February comes around, there tends to be bugs in the soil. You want to treat that soil so they won’t kill the plant.”

Otto also said to make sure to fertilize during the winter before taking the plants back outside in the spring.

He said that perennial gardens also require fall maintenance.

“After the freeze you want to clean all the dead leaves off,” he said. “Once the plants freeze, you can go out and cut off the perennials and clean up the gardens. You can trim up some of your shrubs and shape them the way you want them, maybe about halfway back.”

Otto said it’s good to get lawns evened up in the fall, and that fall is a good time to put a “weed and feed” on the lawn, along with a winterizer in late October and into November, “just to help green it up quicker in the spring.” He said to contact a local lawn professional for more advice on keeping a lawn healthy through the winter.

Otto said that fall is also a good time to spray for weeds and get them killed, especially on your lawn.

“That way you don’t have to deal with them in the spring,” he said. “With the fall cooler temperatures you can get a lot of weeds killed.”

For fruit trees, February is typically a good month for pruning, according to Otto. Evergreens, however, should be pruned in the summer months — ideally in July — so they have time to recover before the winter cold sets in. In the fall, some of the more tender evergreens can be protected from winter burn with a spray called “Wilt Proof,” which basically puts a waxy coating on them to protect them from the elements.

For people with roses, Otto advises mulching with a leaf compost.

“Don’t cut them back too far — they’ll dry out quicker,” he said. “You can shape them down a little bit, but leave them up. Don’t cut them way back.”

Otto said to pile the leaves on the roses, and leave them there until the spring warm-up.

“The key to keeping roses alive is not to pull that leave material off until you know we’re past all the light freezes in the spring — not until late April,” he said. “They’re susceptible to a late freeze, and that will kill them.”

Otto said that anyone with more detailed questions is welcome to stop in and ask.

“Come in and find me,” he said. “The fall and winter is a good time to plan for next year’s landscaping projects. If you have a graduation or something, you want to get on the list early, before we get booked up.”

Otto said that trees, shrubs and a vast supply of perennials have already been ordered for next spring.

In the meantime, Otto’s Oasis also grows its own poinsettias on site, and Christmas is just around the corner.

“We appreciate the support we get so we can remain open year round,” he said. “We’re excited about some new things coming in — the company will be growing.”