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Keep winter yard healthy, ready for next season

By Melissa Crowe
Nov. 25, 2012 at 5:25 a.m.
Updated Nov. 26, 2012 at 5:26 a.m.

Stephen Ray with Garden-Ville holds a handful of compost material that is specially made with materials from the solid waste department.

Preparing for winter

• Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizer.

• Don't cut grass too short.

• Water when necessary.

Wintertime can evoke a sense of nostalgia, visions of roaring campfires and the crisp scent of chill breeze.

But for all its beauty, cool weather and dry conditions can tax even the heartiest lawns and gardens.

South Texas' plants are not immune from the risk of catching disease and dying during the cooler months.

Despite November's relatively warm temperatures, lawn and garden experts say if you haven't done it yet, now is the prime time to winterize.

After a harsh summer, taking precautions against cold winters can help plants and turf absorb beneficial vitamins and minerals to look their best for the springtime, said Stephen Ray, manager of Garden-Ville.

Ray works in organic and chemical-free compost and garden products, which he said can save depleted soils and enhance the growth of turf and plants.

The company, at 18125 Farm-to-Market Road 1686, produces several Texas brands of compost, but for South Texas, "Coastal Gro" is what Ray recommends.

As temperatures cool, it is a good idea to mix hearty compost and soils in lawns to prime yards for springtime, he said.

For large projects, buying in bulk rather than bags can be an easy money-saver, and an option Garden-Ville offers.

Ray also suggested putting old sheets over plants for frost protection and using a product like Garden-Ville's "Volcanite" to replenish minerals.

"If you don't put anything back in the soil, you're not going to grow anything," Ray said.

Peter McGuill, Victoria County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, said the goal of winterizing is to correct deficiencies in potassium and phosphorus.

"By putting them down in the fall, they're accessible in the spring," McGuill said.

Before adding any fertilizer, consider testing your soil, he said.

"A large percentage of the people who fertilize often don't need to," McGuill said.

Not only can nitrogen fertilizer applied too late in the season increase the potential for disease, overfertilization is a pollutant, he said.

His rule is to avoid nitrogen fertilizer after Labor Day.

To choke out winter weeds, keep grass cut a little higher than normal, he said.

Winter also is a good season to trim branches.

McGuill recommended having a plan of action before carving into any limbs.

The city of Victoria offers free brush pickup to residential customers. Garden-Ville also accepts limbs, stumps and other wood products for a fee. Caterpillar is Garden-Ville's largest wood source, Ray said.

Other lawn and garden experts said the dry summer caused most of the problems seen today.

Laurie Garretson, owner of Earthworks Nursery, 102 E. Airline Road, said fall is the most important time to feed your lawn.

"Just because the grass goes dormant, the roots are still growing," Garretson said.

Because of the dry conditions this year, most people's lawns could stand some help, she said.

Rather than use chemical fertilizer, she specializes in organic options.

"Everything people do chemically, you can do organically," Garretson said. "All the natural fertilizers can be used 365 days a year."

David Dierlam, a partner at Dierlam at Garden Supplies, 914 Northeast Water St., recommends winterizing with a low-nitrogen fertilizer.

Following winter, put down a pre-emergence herbicide to combat grass burs, he said.

Although he has not seen many people planting pansies and other flowers, he said there is still plenty of time for snapdragons and other cold-season flowers.

"Our average first day of frost is Nov. 12," Dierlam said. "We're on borrowed time right now."

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