Winter Garden Checklist

Last week, in early December, I did some work in my yard.  The day was warm, which made the work more enjoyable.  While I was working I made a checklist of all the things I need to get done in my yard before next spring.  My daughter Allyson is graduating from high school and we are having her graduation party in our backyard.  So the pressure is on to get it ready for the big event.



It may seem strange to be thinking about spring when it’s cold outside, but in March and April, when things start blooming, you’ll be glad you planned ahead. Here are some things you should definitely include in your winter garden checklist:

Leaf Collection

It is critical this time of year to continue removing leaves so they don’t smother your grass.  Fescue lawns need sunlight even during winter months and a thick layer of leaves can stunt growth or kill the lawn altogether.

Pick Up Hoses and Drain Irrigation System

Unhook hoses from the faucet, drain them, roll up and store inside.  Hoses can deteriorate if left out through the winter.  The sunlight can be harmful and water left in hoses can cause damage due to freezing temperatures.  I drain sprinklers and irrigation systems that can be busted by prolonged cold weather.


Winter is the ideal time to prune deciduous trees because they are dormant.  Prune dead branches and shape trees.  Step back and look at the tree as a whole before pruning.  Envision what the tree will look like after the branch is removed.


Landscapes can really benefit from a fresh layer of mulch.  Put down 2-4 inches of wood chips or any weed-free organic matter before the ground freezes.  Mulch keeps the soils temperatures more even, holds moisture,  slows runoff,  and controls soil erosion.  Newly planted trees and shrubs will benefit the most from mulch.

Clean Gutters

Before winter rains and snowstorms, it is a great time to clear away any leaves or debris that has collected in your gutters this fall.  Impeding flow causes ice buildup which is a safety concern when it falls from the roof.  Be careful and don’t fall off the ladder.

Winterize Equipment and Tools

I run stabilized fuel through my power equipment and then drain the fuel tanks.  Gas left in the carburetors can do damage to them by deteriorating the components and aluminum parts.  A varnish can also develop which clogs small openings within the components.  Chainsaws, hedge trimmers, weed-eaters, and mowers will be ready to go next spring.  Clean, sharpen and store hand tools.  A thin coat of linseed oil will keep them from rusting.

Take Notes

What do you need to do next spring?  What plants will you need to fill the gaps in your landscape?  What are your dreams for your outdoor space?


First plant to bloom in the arboretum next spring

First plant to bloom in the arboretum next spring – Vernal Witchhazel


Spring will come too fast.  So will Allyson’s graduation.  It is hard to believe that 17 years have passed already.  People kept telling me that she will grow up fast.  They were right.  We look forward to that graduation day with anticipation and a lot of fear and trembling.  Hopefully, my backyard will be ready, because I know I will not be ready for that day.


Winter Dreams of Prairie Gardens


We are near the longest nights of the year when your landscape is cold, brown, and sometimes snowy with few creatures stirring. But soon, if not already, you will be having visions of coneflowers and ground plums dancing in your head.

Since landscaping labor is not taking up your free time at the moment, now is the perfect time to be thinking about and planning the logistics of your spring or fall prairie garden.

Here are a few things you can be doing during the months of winter to prepare for your prairie garden:

Identify Desired Area

Identify the area you want to plant and measure the square footage. With a generally recommended planting rate of one plant/2-4 sq. ft., knowing your planting area will allow you to estimate the number of plants you need and help establish a budget (~$4/plant).

Install Edging

Edging around your prairie garden is not only aesthetically pleasing, but functionally critical to establish where you should stop weeding and start mowing. Garden center options include plastic, metal, wood, or brick, but my favorite is Kansas limestone. A good source in Central Kansas is the Florence Rock Quarry where I last acquired an inexpensive load for $20.50/ton.


Embedded limestone for a garden border.

Acquire Mulch

Mulch is essential to reduce water and nutrient competition for new prairie plants, reduce weeds, and slow soil moisture loss. Garden center mulch is always available in easy-to-transport bags but, you also have to pay for it. Many municipalities offer free self-serve mulch or a friendly request to a local tree-trimming contractor may get a pile delivered right to your desired location. A layer of newspaper under the mulch will give a bit more biodegradable weed protection in the first year.


Newspaper under mulch is a great first year weed barrier.

Plan for Bermuda Grass Eradication

Believe me, you don’t want it in your prairie garden. If your site gets plenty of sun you most likely have it; delay your planting till late summer so you can eradicate this species during its growing season. This is the one scenario for which I use herbicide and plan for two to three glyphosate treatments (e.g., Roundup) in the months of June-September to eliminate this very difficult-to-weed warm-season grass.


Killing Bermuda grass is essential before planting.

Hardscape Features

Water features and feeders attract wildlife, seating allows you to relax in your garden, and weatherproof artwork adds beauty.


Leopold Bench (


Petersen Elementary’s Artwork by Erin Dresher Dowell

Consider Sun Exposure and Other Notable Features

Sun exposure and notable features that affect soil moisture such as low spots or downspouts will affect your plant choices. Consider structures or tree canopies that will block sunlight anywhere from straight overhead to about 45 degrees off the southern horizon. Prairie plants can thrive with at least six hours of sunlight. With less sunlight you should consider more shade-tolerant woodland understory species. Water from downspouts will wash away mulch.


Consider the amount of sunlight your garden area receives (Source:

Pick Plants

Peruse our Dyck Arboretum plant library and keep an eye out for our spring and fall plant sale lists. Have fun choosing the plants that fit your preferences with regard to season of bloom, flower color, height, dormant season texture and color, wildlife attraction, and more. See our website for further tips and ideas on landscaping with native plants.

Attention to these items in advance will make your native landscaping endeavor much more successful and enjoyable. Enjoy your winter planning during the darkest days of winter and signs of spring will be here before you know it!