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Best Practices for Apartment Landscaping Maintenance in Winter

Friday, February 17, 2017

Article written by Chris Lee from Property Management Insider.

The winter months do not obviate the need for apartment landscaping maintenance. Giving lawns, plants, trees and shrubs the attention during this time ensures that the apartment grounds transform into lush and colorful landscapes when spring arrives to enhance curb appeal.

The arrival of La Niña, a weather system that can cause erratic changes in Central and South America and parts of North America, has already affected many landscapes this year. Landscapes in the Southwest, for example, have dried out due to lower moisture levels and temperature fluctuations.

The temperature extremes followed the National Weather Service’s La Niña advisory in December. Over Christmas, much of the eastern U.S. hit record warm spells. On Christmas Day, the mercury was over 80 degrees in some parts of Texas, and then temperatures turned bitter cold the first week of January.

Like it or not, La Niña is here to stay.

Dry winters may increase the need for irrigation

A La Niña system changes how you need to prepare your landscape for winter. In recent years, the southwest enjoyed wetter conditions from an El Niño that ended serious drought, but these areas will get less moisture in the coming months, increasing the importance of irrigation.
Even though most plants and grasses are dormant, lack of necessary moisture and periodic hard freezes damage root systems. Water does a better job than air at insulating plant roots. Watering prior to a freeze will help keep bitter cold air from penetrating the roots and damaging the plant. The cold may damage the foliage, but the roots will survive.

Keeping sprinkler systems at the ready in drier areas is a good bet. During prolonged dry spells, landscapes need more attentive watering schedules to ensure that root systems remain healthy, especially when temperatures are warm.

Remember that a little bit of moisture can go a long away. Recent research published by two Texas A&M AgriLife institutes shows that some plants need only moderate moisture to remain healthy.

Sprinkler systems left on can be particularly susceptible to temperature changes. Freezes can damage pipes and require immediate attention, so it is best to periodically check the system for leaks using zone-by-zone tests. Drain and test winterized systems zone-by-zone for repairs after the last freeze.

Applying pre-emergent herbicides and fertilizer will help landscape keep pace

With warmer temperatures, the potential for earlier germination of weeds is certainly possible. Apply pre-emergent herbicides and fertilizers now to fight weed germination that typically begins in February in warmer climates. If not treated, a post-emergent application likely will be necessary in the spring.

Additionally, the landscape will need nutrients that it may not otherwise get from normal rainfall. Apply a slow-release fertilizer to ensure the lawn and vegetation has everything it needs to blossom in the spring. About half of the nutrients and nitrogen release in the initial application to give the landscape a jump. The rest release over the next few months to stabilize growth.

Warm days encourage general cleanup around the property

Take advantage of those warmer days to do general cleanup around the property. Clean leaves and dead plants out of beds and cut back grasses. By removing unsightly matter, the property looks cleaner and enhances curb appeal. At the same time, your landscape will have a head start for new growth when warmer temperatures return for good.

Mild winter temperatures that include spring-like days may tempt early pruning of some plants, but it’s best to wait until that last freeze has passed. Certain plants are more susceptible to freeze damage, so leaving their foliage and crowns intact will serve as insulation when temps drop. Check the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to determine which plants you should not cut back during the winter.

Your best bet during a La Niña winter is to keep a close eye on your landscape and work with what Mother Nature gives you.