Considerations For Winterizing Your Garden


by Donna De Palma 

As we wistfully say goodbye to the warmth and glow of summer, here are a few simple tasks for getting your yard and garden ready for the cold weather ahead.  Preparing your garden, and your lawn, for winter is a smart way to ensure they’ll be lush and healthy next spring.

Let’s start with the biggest area of growth: your lawn.  First, find out what type of grass you have.  In Upstate New York, cooler season varieties including fescue, Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass benefit from being fertilized before the snow falls.

Cool-season grasses grow heartily in fall which is why they prefer to be fertilized now.  Use an organic fertilizer to keep your yard habitat-friendly.  You want to look for a winterizing fertilizer to apply in late October through November.  Be sure it contains all 16 essential nutrients.

Grass is fertilized in the fall because with shorter days, and cooler air, the growth of turf grass begins to slow.  Grass returns like a velvety green canopy each spring because of the shift of nutrients to its roots during winter months to fuel its spring revival.  To conserve nutrients, grass shifts food reserves from leaves to roots. Even though air temps continue to fall at this time of year, plant roots remain active in the soil.

By fertilizing grass now you’re feeding active roots so roots have even more nutrients to store for winter.  Grass that’s fed in fall greens up quickly in spring. If you fertilize, you’ll have a thick and lush spread come April.

In our region, fall is also the time to spread cool-weather grass seed in patches of your lawn that have shown the most wear and tear.  Take advantage of whatever warmer days we have to seed. New growth shows best when daytime temperatures are between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mow your lawn for the last time in early to mid-November. Fall is a good time to aerate your lawn to allow air, water, and nutrients to reach down to the roots. This is especially important for high-traffic lawns, which can suffer from thatch buildup, if left untreated.

Maintenance is key to a good lawn come spring.  Removing fallen leaves ensures your lawn’s health.  Raking also removes thatch, a layer of dead grass on top of your lawn that can compact grass. Avoid thatch or else water and nutrients will be prevented from reaching the roots.  Pull weeds before the snow flies.

After your lawn, look to your garden’s pre-winter needs.  As fall progresses and temperatures drop, plants that aren’t killed outright by frost prepare for dormancy. New perennials and delicate shrubs will need some help to get through the winter.  Prepare your garden for cold weather by winterizing new growth plants.

The freeze-and-thaw cycle that root balls face in winter can damage plants. Mulch is a great way to insulate your recently-planted perennials. Mulch helps insulate soil and prevents frost heave, a condition that occurs when soil repeatedly freezes and thaws.  When frost heave occurs, plant crowns and roots can be exposed to freezing air and drying winds. Frost heave will actually push plants out of the soil and can damage your garden.

When adding fall mulch, you’ll need a layer that’s six inches deep. Wait until the ground freezes before adding a layer of organic material as winter mulch. Straw, crumbled leaves, cornstalks, pine needles or clean hay all work as well as commercial grades.

Shallow-rooted perennials are especially prone to frost heave, so be sure to mulch around them. Another option is covering a new bed with burlap.  Mulch bulb beds with evergreen boughs to protect the soil from shifting and cracking during the winter.

Remember, in the fall, newly transplanted trees and shrubs, divisions of perennials, and hardy bulbs are all growing roots, drawing on soil nutrients and moisture around them. Earthworms and microbes in soil are still processing organic materials they find. Create a winter-friendly habitat and one that will provide even temperature for roots.  Once soil is frozen, mulch keeps it frozen.

While you’re in your garden, do some fall cutting. Cut back dry stems of perennials to soil level after frost. Clear out blackened stems and foliage. Pull dead annuals. Cleaning up your garden helps eliminate pests and disease. Be sure to leave any plants that have winter foliage intact.  Compost dead plant debris to create an organic soil conditioner. Active compost piles kill weed seeds and disease pathogens.

Roses require extra attention as winter sets in.  The last feeding of the season should be two months before the first frost.  Stop pruning, and cutting blossoms then too to avoid stimulating new growth which will be killed by the first frost.

Just before the first hard frost, spread fresh mulch of wood chips, shredded bark, or chopped leaves around the base of rose plants, extending as far out as the branch tips.  Once the ground freezes, add more mulch.  Because winter temperatures can drop below zero here, build a mount of mulch, then add more material after every freeze.  Eventually mulch should virtually cover the bush. For an extra step of protection around roses, create a framework using wire, cloth or tomato cages stuffed with leaves or straw to protect plant crowns.

Climbing roses are vulnerable to winter wind and sun. Give them special attention in Upstate NY where winter temperatures go below zero. Wrap the canes with burlap or detach them from your trellis then lay horizontally on the ground. Cover with a mulch of leaves, wood chips, or soil.  All roses or young perennials require protecting plant crowns with a deeper layer of mulch or soil after the ground freezes. Always wait for soil to freeze first before protecting plant crowns.

Evergreen roots freeze in soil and stop taking up water when cold sets in. Winterizing evergreen trees and shrubs means protecting them from winter winds. Erect a burlap screen on the windy side of plants (most often northwest). Drive stakes into the soil before the ground freezes. When temperatures are steadily in the 20s, staple or tie burlap to stakes.  Protect tender bark of young trees from critters that can gnaw by wrapping stems and trunks with wire or tree-guard products.

Bring in any tropical plants whether potted or planted in your garden.  Check for unwanted guests like mealybugs and mites.  To acclimate plants to the indoors, start by bringing them in at night when temps fall below 50 degrees and increase the amount of time plants spend indoors daily.

Finally, clean and store garden tools so they’ll be in good shape for the spring. Don’t leave tools– including hoses–outdoors to be damaged by cold weather.  Empty hoses and bring them into your garage or shed.  Sand wood-handled tools and rub with oil before storing indoors.  Sharpen tools including hoes, shears, scissors, knives, loppers, pruners, and shovels and lubricate with oil before storing til spring.

To sharpen edges, put a drop of oil–either WD-40 or motor oil–on the blade. Then, with a handheld wet stone, file the blade at a 20-degree angle. A file or a motor-driven sharpener also works well.  Store tools in oiled sand, or hang on pegs.

The cold is coming.  Putting your garden and lawn to bed is about cleaning up then covering up.  Remember, fall is the most important season for both your garden and yard.  For a full, healthy garden and lawn next spring, get started now to protect your beautiful blooms, hardy shrubs and lush green grass.





Bob Villa

Martha Stewart Living

Better Homes and Gardens



Blooming with color: Planting a perennial garden


by Donna De Palma

For those who crave color in a garden all summer long, planting a perennial garden can be one of the most rewarding outdoor pursuits you’ll ever have.   Picture continuous blooms cycling throughout the growing season.  Perennials, plants with root systems that stay alive underground for years, lie dormant in winter and sprout again each spring.  These plants take time to get established but once established, they provide structure in a garden. Perennials bloom at the same time every year. When you plant a perennial garden, you’ll have flowers you can count on from April to October.  Before starting a perennial garden, ask yourself these key questions to create a garden design that best suits your needs.


What do I want from a garden?

Do you picture yourself in a country setting with meandering paths and walkways or would you prefer a formal garden with a definite structure and pattern? Will you be entertaining in your garden, observing butterflies or just having an occasional breakfast? Have a vision of what you want before you begin.


What style is my house?

Whether your home is contemporary or classic, your garden should complement your home.  A well-designed garden links home and garden.  Consider the views out your windows.  Interiors that open onto views feel expansive.

-Organize your landscape around sight lines you observe by looking out your windows.

-Position your main garden outside a living room picture window or in view of an outdoor deck or patio.  If you enjoy waking up to flowers, a view of the garden from your bedroom window should be part of your plan.

-Plot patios and walks with your home’s style in mind.  Use materials that match your house when laying walkways. Crisscross paths to create areas of interest at intersections in your garden.


Can anything be saved in my existing yard or will I be starting with a clean slate?

Do you have a unique stance of trees, a hedge or berm that could be used as a starting point for planning a design?  Any natural landscaping can suggest where to begin.

-Place a path where your eye naturally moves through your lot.  Create resting spots by placing a bench or decorative pot at points where paths converge or near a shady tree.


What type of light do I have in my yard?

Observe how sunlight moves across your yard, making note of sunny and shaded sections.

Purple flowers and lily pond

How much can I spend to plant a garden?

Spread your planting expenses over a few seasons to keep costs down.  Prioritize purchases.  Select five to ten perennials to start.  Buy small.  Younger plants tend to acclimate better to new surroundings.

-Some considerations before planting: Many varieties of perennials need sun to flower–often six to eight hours a day during growing season.  Check your soil.  Good soil means it’s not too sandy or too sticky and has enough organic matter to allow for good drainage.  That’s the best habitat for plants to root. Test the pH of your soil with a soil testing kit before you plant.

-When you’re ready to begin, draw a sketch or take some photos of your yard—panoramics work best.  Overlay tracing paper and start sketching out your garden design. It will help to visualize where certain features should be.

-To implement your design, begin by separating one area from another with a hedge or shrub border.  You may want to install a trellis or an arbor for climbing vines. Vines are good for creating intimate seating areas and can provide shelter.   If you want varying heights in your garden, haul in dirt or remove dirt to raise or lower terrain. The outdoors is a place to explore so follow the slope of the land to create as natural a flow as you can.

-Next, choose your color palette.  If you like the excitement of hot colors, select vibrant flowering varieties that sizzle with reds, oranges and yellows.  For a peaceful garden setting, choose cool colors such as blues and a variety of greens.  Select silver and white-colored flowers and foliage for a garden that gets light late in the day. They’ll reflect the sun or shine by the glow of the moon as evening descends.  Decide on a group of colors you like, then build a garden around them.

-Group plants that have harmonious colors and textures as well as similar water needs. Create a bold effect by planting in drifts of one or two varieties rather than mixing lots of different types of plants in one area.  Perennials, as a general rule, are low maintenance and if they’re native to your region, will require less care.  Remember the less sunlight you have, the fewer blooms.

-Perennials work well in whole garden beds, when combined with annuals and bulbs or as an accent to trees and shrubs.  They tend to increase in size and coverage each year.  Perennials are well-loved because of their diversity and size and for the variety of colors available.   Use them as flower borders around shrubs and trees.

-A well-planned and well-tended garden is like a fine painting. Your first impression will be fields of color, punctuated by unexpected bursts of more intense color and texture.  Always changing, ever-evolving, the best gardens tell us something about the person who planted and cared for them. They remind us to explore, to discover, and to appreciate, the beauty and bounty of nature.


Ten select perennials to plant


Ajuga  A part sun, part shade, perennial, Ajuga, with its purple flowers, makes a colorful groundcover that looks great most of the year.


Baby’s breath The loose billowy panicles of the tiny single and double pink or white flowers of Baby’s breath adds a light, airy texture to your garden.  This delicate-looking perennial prefers alkaline soil and will drape itself over rock walls.


Bellflower (Campanula) These bobbing, often blue, bellflowers are cottage garden plants.  This part sun, full sun, perennial comes in both a tall variety and a ground-hugging type.


Blue fescue (Ornamental grass)  Blue fecsue is one of the most versatile of the wispy ornamental grasses.  Use it at the base of tall perennials such as lilies for blending with the landscape and to offset other plants and foliage.  Beautiful when planted in a row as a hedge.


Coneflower (Echinacea) Purple coneflower is easy to grow and attracts birds, bees, and butterflies.  Its large, sturdy daisy-like flowers with dropping petals spread easily in good soil with full sun.   Color is most often rosy violet or white with hybrids now in yellow, orange, burgundy and cream.


Coralbells  Known for their spires of delicate reddish flowers, Coralbells have mottling and veining on their leaves.  Because of their exotic foliage, they make fine groundcover and enjoy humus-rich moisture retaining soil.


Hydrangea Comes in types that flourish in sun or shade. This perennial offers huge bouquets of clustered flowers–from mophead to lacecap–blooming from summer through fall.  They differ in size of plant and flower shape, flower color and blooming time.  Hydrangeas thrive in moist, fertile, well-drained soil.  For blue hydrangea, check your soil’s pH and apply aluminum sulfate in spring to lower soil’s pH to 5.2-5.5 range.  Also a climbing variety that produces aerial roots  that grow into walls, fences or the sides of trees.


Iris   This part sun, full sun, perennial was named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow.  Iris comes in a rainbow of colors.  These intricate flowers are constructed with three upright petals and three drooping petals.  Some like alkaline soil and some like acidic.


Lavender  An herb and perennial shrub, Lavender fills the early summer garden with muted purple blooms infused with aromatic fragrance.  Great to plant alongside pathways or near outdoor seating so garden visitors can enjoy the scent.


Peony This part sun, part shade, perennial belongs in almost every garden.  These lush and sumptuous blooms come in single, semi-double, anemone centered or Japanese, and fully-double varieties.  Their vibrant shades of pink and red, and sometimes white, herald early days of spring.  Likes deep rich soil with plenty of humus to avoid dryness.  When well-suited to the climate, peonies can thrive on very little care.







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Country Living

Better Homes and Gardens

Martha Stewart Living



Green Made Easy: Eco-Friendly, Efficient Remodeling Tips

by Donna De Palma


Consider the environment when remodeling your home this season.  It’s good for the planet and can save on both energy and water bills:


-Try a sustainable product such as a low-flow faucet with aerator and restrictor as a good first step in your kitchen.  Water usage is reduced from 2.5 gallons per minute down to 1.5 in low-flow faucets.

-The reduced flow will be almost undetectable.  Aerators force air into the water stream to maintain pressure and rinsing efficiency.

-Great design while preserving the planet can be achieved in the bath too.  Water-efficient showerheads optimize water flow without compromising performance.  A water-efficient showerhead’s 1.5 gallon per minute flow rate uses 30% less water.  Eco-performance tub and bath faucets reduce water usage by 32% on average.

-Replace a standard 1.6 gallon per flush toilet with a high-efficiency model to reduce water usage by 20%.  If you’re replacing a pre-1994 model with a high-efficiency model, you can reduce water usage by 60% or more.

-To cut down on your home’s carbon footprint and reduce energy costs, select Energy Star® appliances.  Induction or gas top stoves are 85% more energy efficient than electric.

-When selecting lighting, install LED lights.  LED lights keep your rooms cool and require less electricity.

-Insulate your home with wool, cotton, soy-based, even denim insulation.  These eco-friendly materials hold in heat or cooling efficiently and because they’re non-toxic, they’re much easier to install.

-For heating, geothermal and solar are rated highest as eco-friendly options.  Geothermal systems use earth heat— typically between 45 and 75 degrees—as a base for home heating.  The system works using buried coils that contain liquid—typically, a mix of water and antifreeze.  The liquid is warmed to the same temperature as the earth and then runs through to your house where a compressor extricates the heat.  No fossil fuels are required for this type of home heating.

-Passive solar heating systems align building features using the building’s orientation to the sun to reduce heating needs.  The three categories of passive solar heating: direct gain, indirect gain and isolated gain convert sunlight to thermal energy to keep a home warm and comfortable.

-When remodeling, select local materials when possible to lower your environmental impact.  Rochester, New York has plentiful hardwoods—oak, chestnut and maple— that can be locally-harvested.  Consider reclaiming hardwoods and choose recycled tiles, whenever possible.

-Wood is a beautiful and clean building material with excellent wear-resistance properties.   Not only is it hypo-allergenic but often free of chemicals.  When finished properly, it’s easy to clean and maintain.

-When considering which countertop is best for you, try Corian.  It’s 100%  recyclable.  Corian is seamless and was invented in Buffalo, New York.

-Quartz is another great option for countertops because it can be recycled and has the look of marble—with the same pattern and polish— though easier to maintain.

-When choosing cabinets, look for manufacturers who use sustainable construction practices and materials that are sourced in Rochester, New York or its surrounding counties.

-If you’re painting walls, select paint with low or no VOC’s—Volatile Organic Compounds—especially if you’re chemically-sensitive.  VOC’s have high vapor pressure at ordinary room temperature so large numbers of molecules evaporate and enter the indoor air you breathe.

-For flooring, consider engineered floors made of thin veneers sandwiched on top of one another—or even luxury vinyl—that can have the look of wood or tile.  Both are worry-free options.

-Recycled ceramic or porcelain tiles are also good flooring choices. Try natural cork for an unexpectedly luxurious feel.  Cork comes in a wide variety of colors and its soft finish is easy on your feet.

-To save time and money while being eco-friendly, repurpose and recycle items you already own. Vintage parts make great hardware for cabinets.  Reclaimed corbels under a kitchen countertop can make a space your own.

-Stay warm this winter and conserve on heat with a heated floor.  If it’s a new build, a hydroponic system will allow your domestic water to run through a heat pump so it does double-duty.   In radiant floor heating, channels or tubes under the floor are warmed by warm water.  Some radiant floors are warmed by electricity, and others, by air movement.

-Hydroponic systems are most popular but require the system be hooked up to a water heater or boiler.  Electric radiant floors are much simpler to install and maintain.  They work through cables beneath the floor, or through mats that conduct electricity.

-The advantage of an electric radiant floor is that it comes with its own thermostat so temperature isn’t dependent on the thermostat that controls the rest of your house.   And they’re energy-efficient—an electric radiant floor in an average bathroom uses the same amount of energy as three 100-watt light bulbs.

-When a heated floor is turned off it still generates heat especially when the floor is made of a dense material like concrete.  Ceramic tile in a bath or mud room is a good choice for an electric radiant floor because it’s a great conductor of heat.  Most radiant heat systems can also be installed under hardwoods.

-Maximize outdoor space with a deck, patio or rock garden.  A simple berm planted with native plants and flowers creates an area of interest.  Laying stone or brick is more than a DIY project for most homeowners.  Consult an outdoor or gardening specialist.  Select trees and shrubs that provide shade.  Providing shade for an outdoor space is key to enjoyment on hot, sunny days.

-Railroad ties define sections of a yard or hold back erosion on a hill or alongside a driveway.  Conserve on watering with flowering plants that retain moisture like lilies and deep root plants and trees.

-Try a terrace.  When you build layers into a hill you can retain moisture and prevent water run-off.  Place large stones around trees to trap moisture.  By creating condensation, you’ll have a natural drip irrigation system.


Going green doesn’t necessarily require complex or expensive products or hard-to-find features. Instead, it can be the right solution for reducing energy costs and optimizing comfort for you and your family.



Home/Eco-Home — Is Electric Radiant Floor Heating Good for the Environment?

Houzz — Eco-friendly Cool: Insulate with Wool, Cork, Old Denim and More

Moen — Eco-friendly Bathroom Faucets, Eco-friendly Kitchen Faucets, Eco-performance Showerheads, Eco-performance Aerators

The Permaculture Research Institute — Water Retention Landscape Techniques for Farm and Garden

Mother Earth News — Best Options for High-Efficiency Toilets