Top five things for maintaining your plants this winter

Updated December 08, 2022
Top five things to consider for maintaining your plants and saving water this winter
Now that the summer months are long past and fall is in the air, how do you prepare your landscape for cold weather, ensure your lawn, flowers, and trees stay thriving, and do some things now to make way for healthier landscapes come spring? We recommend five things for a long-lasting, beneficial, and water-wise landscape!

One: Prune trees to remove dead, broken, and crossing branches


Before winter storms bring wind and rain, check trees to see if there are dead, broken, and crossing branches within the canopies that can pose potential hazards. Branches that rub together can cause damage to the bark, inviting pests and disease and weakening branches. The risk of damage/injury depends on the size of the branches and distance from any potential targets, such as your home.

The objective is to safely remove these branches, allowing the tree to develop stronger and healthier ones. This can increase light and air movement in the tree's canopy and enable corrective measures to help the tree have an improved structure as it matures.

It's essential to learn proper pruning techniques for the health of your trees, understand what pruning you can perform yourself, and know when to hire a certified arborist. Here are some resources:

Roseville Urban Forest Foundation

• International Society of Arboriculture Trees are Good

Two: Tree Stakes


Fall is a great time to plant because the soil is still warm enough for root development, and as the rainy season begins, you may not need to supplement watering. However, during prolonged periods without rain, your young trees will need additional water, which you can do by hand watering.

Why stake a tree? Staking can be necessary for a newly planted tree to help stabilize it while its roots are growing into the soil and the trunk is increasing in size (diameter), making it stronger. Also, if the tree is an evergreen tree with a large or dense canopy that can be heavy and catch the wind or a tree that is tall yet has a trunk that is small in diameter, stakes can help stabilize the tree.

Not all trees need to be staked. If your new tree is not tall and has a sturdy trunk, it may not need to be staked. How to know? Put your hand on the trunk about mid-way up and lightly push it. If the tree bends only slightly, stakes may not be needed. If the trunk sways or bends excessively, then it's prudent to stake it.

Did you know that stakes are not permanent fixtures? How to know when to remove tree stakes? Release the tree ties attached to the stakes, but leave the stakes in place. Is the tree standing upright on its own? Also, wrap your hand around the trunk. Gently sway the trunk back and forth. Think about the size of the young tree's container, and look down at the soil around the edge of the rootball. Does the soil move? If it doesn't, then remove the stakes and ties. If the soil moves, then put the tree ties back in place.

Trees typically only need to be staked for one or one-and-one-half to two years. Recheck the tree in the late spring to see if the ties and stakes can be removed.

Learn more about tree care and staking at the Roseville Urban Forest Foundation (RUFF) and the International Society of Arboriculture at Trees are Good.

Three: Check soil moisture


For efficient use of water year-round, water your garden based on each season's weather conditions. For example, November through March is the typical rainy season for the Sacramento region. During these months, we customarily turn off our irrigation controllers.

If a rain event delivers at least 1/8" of rain, the plants and lawn should be fine for at least a week with no supplemental irrigation. In this case, turn the controller off, and don't turn it back on until the soil dries out.

How do you know how much the soil has dried out? Some tools include a soil moisture sensor, a soil sampler probe, and a screwdriver.

• Soil moisture meter - Press the sensor into the soil, and the reading will display whether the soil is dry, moist, or wet. Visit to learn more about this method.

• Soil sampler probe – Vertically insert this t-shaped tool into the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Then, twist it and pull the probe out of the soil. This lets you see a soil sample and how far down moisture is in the soil. Supplemental water may be needed if the soil sample is dry in the top 3 inches or so, depending on the plant's water needs. Also, you can squeeze it in your hand to feel how wet or dry is the soil.

• Screwdriver – This tool is helpful, especially for lawns. Simply insert and press the screwdriver into the grass. If it inserts easily to about 4" to 6", the lawn does not need to be watered. Watering is needed if the screwdriver meets resistance and cannot be inserted or can only be inserted an inch or two.

Remember: Turn off your irrigation system's controller when the rains begin. The soil is cool and plants don't require as much water during the winter.

Four: Top off mulch and leaves


Replenish mulch using an organic material such as wood chips of varying sizes to a depth of 3" to 4". Be sure to keep the mulch pulled back, so it's not in contact with the trunks of trees and the bases of plants or on top of low branches.

Why use mulch? Especially in the winter, mulch helps insulate the soil from cold temperatures, reduces soil erosion, and helps rainfall to soak into the ground. It also helps to reduce compaction. Compacted soil reduces the ability of air and water to move into and through it, which can be harmful to plant roots and soil organisms.

Let the leaves stay because they provide a natural mulch, but clear the leaves back so they're not in contact with the trees' trunks or in the plants' centers to improve air movement and avoid crown rot. Do you have a lot of leaves? To make them more uniform in size, they can be composted or mow over the leaves one or two times or put through a chipper. Leaves make excellent mulch, and it's free.

Five: Enjoy your winter garden!


This is a special time of year to enjoy your winter garden. How about making decorating your garden for the holidays a family activity?

When you put up holiday decorations, be sure to put a timer on the outside lights. This will help reduce what is referred to as light pollution, and it will save energy. Also artificial lights that stay on all night can disrupt the natural day-night patterns that interfere with ecosystems and the rhythms and behaviors of wildlife. Learn more at the International Dark-Sky Association.

In the Sacramento region, we're fortunate to enjoy our gardens throughout the year. In the winter garden, we can bundle up, gather with family and friends outside with a warm beverage, and enjoy the crisp evening air together.

Want more gardening tips?

Learn more about gardening, irrigation, and Roseville's Inspiration Garden or explore other workshops and webinars for year-round learning opportunities.

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