Late Winter/Early Spring Preparation: Investing in Future Growth
By: Tim Sloan and Paul Clute, Woodlake Outdoor
Creating and maintaining landscapes of lasting beauty and natural elegance begins in these winter months. Dormant plant care, including proper cutbacks and mulch application, will help ensure landscape health and vitality in the upcoming growing season – and for the years to come.
Dormancy: Understanding the Winter Cycle
As the growing season comes to an end, there are two primary scenarios that usher in dormancy. Ordinarily, temperatures gradually fall over a span of several weeks. When a plant transitions slowly, it can efficiently move nutrients (sugars) to its roots. These sugars are then converted into starches, and stored for the next year’s growth. This scenario is ideal, allowing the plant to survive the colder temperatures with strong, fortified roots.
For North Texas in particular, however, this is not usually the case. More often, a hard freeze is experienced as temperatures drop rapidly, within a single day or two. Being forced into dormancy from a state of active growth, the leaves will wilt and turn black. Given the microclimates in our state, Woodlake Outdoor prepares in advance for the protection of its properties during dormancy – no matter how gradually or suddenly it occurs.
Cutbacks: Investing in Rejuvenation
One such advance protection begins with accurate, properly-timed pruning. Cutbacks should always be done in tandem with nature to promote optimal growth and appearance when temperatures begin to rise.
Shrubs should be cutback later in the spring, once any deadwood becomes visible. Removal of these branches gives maximum health and form. Perennials and ornamental grasses should be pruned in late winter / early spring. This allows the plant to move the stored starches up from the root system without having to fight through previous old growth.
Cutting back ornamental grasses too late in the spring could remove the leaf tip, which will be unattractively visible all summer. Dormant grasses offer structure to the landscape even in winter, so prune in late winter before the growing season begins. However, an exceptionally wet or icy winter can damage and break the grasses, requiring earlier cutbacks to maintain property appearance. Our team at Woodlake Outdoor keeps a watchful eye on the weather, addressing the subsequent impact it has on each of our properties.
Mulch: Protecting the Natural System
With the cutbacks properly addressed, the next key aspect of landscape preparation is the application of mulch. Quality mulch not only improves plant and soil health, it revitalizes a dormant landscape. While pine needles, pecan hulls, ground cedar, or gravel can be typified as mulch, at Woodlake Outdoor we prefer a double-shredded composted hardwood bark mulch.
This composted mulch safeguards the soil and root system by creating a health barrier to external forces. Correctly applied, it regulates soil temperature and moisture content – critical for volatile weather. Proper mulching will reduce soil erosion and conserve water, which can result in lower water bills.
As the hardwood bark naturally decomposes, it releases soluble nutrients which the plant stores for summer growth. These soil amendments add stability to sandy soils and loosen clay soils – essential for North and Central Texas landscapes.
Over-mulching, however, can be detrimental as it reduces levels of oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange. This can cause the trunk, stem, or root to rot much like overwatering. In an effort to re-establish an equilibrium, the roots will naturally rise toward the soil surface. The weakened root structure makes the plant or tree susceptible to blowing over, particularly with the high winds common to Texas. Woodlake Outdoor uses a standard of 3” of the double-shredded mulch in newly constructed beds, and 1.5-2” in existing beds to ensure effective protection and natural balance.
Winter and early spring are optimal times to prepare landscapes for spectacular summer displays. Bringing natural, lasting beauty through expert care and service is at the heart of what we do at Woodlake Outdoor.
For a more in-depth look at mulch, see our white paper on the topic here.