Mulching in Winter: The Benefits of Fresh Mulch in Colder Months

the parke company winter mulching

It’s winter in Nashville, and tending to gardens and shrubs is probably the last thing on your mind. “That would be a mistake,” say the experts at the Parke Company, Nashville’s leading landscaping service and tree service company. Dry winter winds and the occasional winter warm spell can do real damage to your dormant and evergreen plants.

While Nashville winters are relatively mild, when the temperature drops below 25 degrees and the last of the hardy annuals turn brown and crumble, it’s time to do winter mulching. Why mulch in winter? Unlike spring mulching, which is done to suppress weeds, retain moisture, and warm the soil, the principal reason to mulch in winter is to insulate the soil and prevent damage from dry winter winds.

Insulating the soil to keep it frozen prevents dormant plants from sprouting during brief warm spells in winter. Changes in air temperature can also cause expansion and contraction of soil. Left unchecked, this soil movement can push a plant’s roots above the surface, where they can be damaged by cold winds. Keeping the ground frozen through mulch insulation minimizes the risk of this occurring.

Mulching in Winter

What to Use as Winter Mulch?

Remember last fall when you were raking leaves and doing a major leaf pick up? If you stored those leaves in a leaf bag, now is the time to break them out to be used as winter mulch. You can use any loose insulating material, keeping in mind that you will need to remove it in the spring.

Here are a few ideas for mulch material:

  •        Pine needles
  •        Straw
  •        Shredded leaves
  •        Shredded bark
  •        If the first freeze comes after Christmas, you can use boughs from your Christmas tree – great material because they are easy to remove in the spring.
  •        Snow is actually an excellent insulator, but you can’t count on that in Nashville.

What and How to Mulch in the Winter

We’ve already discussed insulating your flower garden, so let’s talk about other areas to protect.

If you have a fallow vegetable garden and you didn’t plant a cover crop, you can use a layer of leaves. If your vegetable garden is fenced, you can use it to “store” all of your extra leaves. In the spring you’ll have a ready supply of mulch material.

Evergreens and semi-evergreens, like rhododendrons, can become dried out by winter winds. You can protect them by covering the plants/shrubs in burlap. Make sure the burlap is not resting on the shrub or it will freeze to the bush. Stuffing leaves between the burlap and the bush will prevent that.

Another option is to spray the shrub with an  anti-desiccant, like Wilt-Pruf. As an aside, an anti-desiccant will prolong the life of your Christmas tree and also makes a good covering for carved pumpkins.

When to Remove Winter Mulch

The short answer is after the thaw, but that can be tricky. Easter snowstorms are not totally unknown in Nashville. Basically, when the smell of mud is in the air, it’s safe to remove the mulch.

If you have questions or need assistance with winter mulching, please don’t hesitate to call us at the Parke Company!

How to Handle Ice and Snow Safely (and When to Get Help!)

the parke company snow removal

In Nashville we don’t get a ton of snow and ice, but we get enough. When it does come, one of the biggest challenges is to clear porches, sidewalks, and driveways to prevent slip and falls and get the car safely in and out of the garage.

So, who does this? Some of our clients have longer, tree-lined driveways, others have more traditional lengths. In both cases, clearing ice and snow will be a challenge, one they may decide to take on themselves or find some help.

At the Parke Company, Nashville’s leading landscaping service and tree service, we know a little about snow removal. While we don’t offer “snow mitigation,” we’ve dealt with the aftermath, which unfortunately can result in removing a tree damaged by sloppy use of deicer.

We’d like to pass along a few tips on how to handle snow and ice to ensure your paved surfaces are safe without doing damage to your plants, trees, and lawn.

the parke company snow removal

Snow Removal with Heart

When we talk about heart, we mean yours. If you opt to shovel, snow blow, or spread deicer, there are a few things you should be aware of. First, shoveling snow can either be great exercise or trigger a heart attack. Nashville ERs staff up when it snows because they know they will have a rush of coronary emergencies to deal with.

If you don’t regularly exercise, now is not the time to start. Make arrangements for a snow removal service to tend to the chore. Cold weather drives blood pressure up and cold air rapidly dehydrates the body. Toss in repeatedly lifting shovel loads of snow or pushing a heavy blower and you have the makings of a heart attack.

If you feel pain or “squeezing” in your chest, pain radiating down your left arm, jaw pain, shortness of breath, or you break out in a cold sweat, quit, go inside, and call 911.

Preparation

The best way to defeat ice is to prepare paved surfaces before the ice actually arrives. Keep an eye on the weather report and when snow or ice is in the forecast, prep your surfaces. If you want to go totally “green,” spread wood chips, straw, or gravel to encourage traction. After the ice arrives, you can spread sand on top. However, all of these “green” solutions need to be cleaned up after the ice thaws.

Deicers are the most common method of clearing snow and ice, and this is where you can do some real damage. One of the favorite deicers is sodium chloride, AKA rock salt. It’s popular because it’s dirt cheap. Salt is a corrosive, and it is capable of burning a pet’s paws as well as killing any grass or bushes that come in contact from the runoff.

Alternatives to rock salt include potassium chloride, calcium chloride, and magnesium chloride. All three are pet and plant friendly. Unfortunately, all three are more expensive than rock salt. The good news is, after a few short months spring will arrive and we at the Parke Company can get back to tree trimming, tree planting and other landscaping tasks. Until then, we wish you a safe and enjoyable winter season.

Do’s and Don’ts for DIY Holiday Lighting Outdoors

Please Note: The Parke Company is not offering installation services this season. 

At the Parke Company, Nashville’s leading landscaping service and tree service organization, we know our way around decorating outdoor trees. In fact, this year it was the Parke Company that cut and helped decorate the 35-year-old, 35-foot Norway spruce used for the State of Tennessee’s Christmas tree at the state capitol in Nashville.

Decorated Christmas Tree

When done right, outdoor Christmas lighting can be awe inspiring, creating the perfect backdrop for the season’s spirit. It can spread that spirit to the entire neighborhood. But all it takes is one home to drag that seasonal joy down.

You know which one we mean. It’s the house with the fuse-busting display of 10,000 multicolored lights that blink in time to Christmas carols, and has the giant, inflatable Santa Claus on the front lawn. It’s the homeowner who strongly believes that “more is better,” and who measures the success of his display by how fast his electricity meter spins rather than the actual appearance.

With a little common sense, and a few tips from Nashville’s tree trimmers, you can avoid becoming your neighborhood’s Clark Griswold from “Christmas Vacation.”

LED Versus Conventional Christmas Lights

Technologically, LED lights have come a long way. Originally, LED bulbs gave off a blue tint, a “cool light” that most people didn’t care for. Today, if you select LED lights marked “warm” you will receive bright, full colored light that rivals any form of incandescent lighting.

Of course, they are environmentally friendly, using next to nothing in electrical power. They are also more reliable than conventional lights and last significantly longer.

The downside to LED lights is their cost. The initial outlay will be significantly higher than conventional lights. Over time, however, LEDs may prove to be the better investment.

The big advantage of traditional lights is cost. Prices have dropped significantly over the past decade. Because you are not terribly concerned if a string of conventional lights is damaged, taking them off trees becomes easier. If you use a professional to decorate and take down decorations, cutting the traditional string of lights rather than trying to unwrap it from a branch will save you a significant amount of labor costs.

Do’s and Don’ts for Holiday Outdoor Lighting

There are some basic “rules of the road” to consider when decorating outdoors. Follow these and the odds of a successful decorating project increase substantially.

  • Do: Have a plan before you begin. Check your inventory and the location of your power sources to ensure have enough of both to carry out the plan. Also consider how you are going to take down the display after the holidays.
  • Don’t: Mix LED and conventional lights. They don’t give off the same hue and will stand out like a sore thumb. If you do use both, use them on different sections, i.e. house and trees.
  • Do: Use more lighting if your house sits back from the road to enhance curb appeal. You don’t have to go “Griswold” but if you want people to see it, you need to go a little heavier with the lighting. If you use LED lights you won’t need as many. Their extra bright light will help you keep down your tree trimming cost.
  • Do: Leave at least a foot of space between the edges of your driveway and any staked lighting you are using to outline it. This will avoid problems if a car goes off the edge while trying to back out in the dark.
  • Do: Outline the architectural features of your home. Roof lines, peaks, gables, and porches can help give depth to the display. Electric candles in windows add a classic touch and a little variety to just string lights.
  • Do: Use pre-lit garland and wreaths on doors.
  • Do: And this should have been number two on the list, get your spouse’s agreement on the plan before you begin.
  • Don’t: Use all green or red lights. This is your home, not a commercial enterprise.
  • Don’t: Use as many lights if you are decorating with LED bulbs. LED lights are significantly brighter than conventional.

With a little planning you can make this year’s tree trimming project the best ever.

Winter is the Perfect Time for Debris Removal and Cleanup

At the Parke Company, we are known by our Nashville clients for our landscaping services, tree service, installation of irrigation systems, sourcing shrubs and flowers, and other traditional landscape tasks. Of course, most of those tasks take place when things are growing. Spring and fall are our busiest seasons.

But when winter arrives, it brings its own set of lawn problems.

Nashville is a southern city, so we don’t get much snow compared to our neighbors to the north. In fact, Nashville only averages about 7 inches of snow in any given winter. We get rain, and the temperature drops to an average of about six degrees above freezing. That limits the amount of outdoor activities that the fine folks of Nashville are willing to participate in, and it creates a problem for lawns and other outdoor spaces.

Too Cold to Do Much of Anything?

While driving on a freeway or even a residential street during the winter months, you’ll probably notice that the landscape looks a bit trashy.

Culverts will have filled up with windblown leaves, trash and debris. Lawns may appear to be unkempt because they are littered with debris. Our Nashville winter scenes rarely consist of pristine snow-covered lawns, but rather cluttered spaces with mostly grey skies up above.

Why do our winters look like this? In part it’s because it’s just considered too cold for many homeowners or even state road maintenance to be out raking and cleaning debris. It’s not that there is some “extra” supply of winter trash that somehow hits our landscape, it’s just that the usual trash is not picked up.

While a debris-filled lawn is not attractive, it can actually do harm as well. If left unattended, the debris can damage the grass under it when the first thaw hits.

Our early springs tend to be wet and muddy. Leaves, twigs, and other “yard trash” can hinder the growth of the grass when it comes out of dormancy. This can leave yellow patches or off green patches unless the debris is removed.

If you have done a good job of mulching, you may be inviting another, smaller, threat to your lawn. Field mice love mulch. If you see narrow yellow trails coursing across your lawn, these are the rodent freeways to the mulch bed. Raking out the trails will help the trampled grass and give it a chance to survive when spring arrives.

Clean Up Winter Debris

Obviously, the way to avoid yellow spots in the spring is to clean up debris during the winter. If your lawn is fenced, has hardscaping or drainage ditches, finding the debris will be easy. Winter winds will pile up the debris in these areas.

The trusty leaf rake can do leaf collection, but for most of our clients with large lawns, this will be a full weekend project. A leaf vacuum mulcher can handle most of the task. Large items (twigs, branches, trash) will need to be collected and bagged manually.

Of course, if you don’t have the time for a winter lawn cleanup, you can always call us at the Parke Company, and we will be happy to handle the job. We have the crews and the equipment to make quick work of transforming your debris-littered lawn into a clean winter landscape.

Let’s all hope for an early spring.

Cold Weather Care for Your Trees

It might seem a bit odd, but even with the cold weather and all of the leaves on the ground, now is the perfect time to work on the trees and bushes that line your lawn or business’s property. Not only is the cool weather – like the kind that is rapidly approaching the Nashville area – the perfect time to plant a new tree, since it promotes root growth, but the ideal time to get things ready for the harsh realities of the oncoming winter. We here at the Parke Company spend a lot of time getting things ready for winter and planting new trees. In fact, it is one of the busiest times of the year for us because of the small window to get things done and take advantage of the weather while it lasts. To really take advantage of the timing, here are some things you can do to make sure your trees last through the cold weather and come out of their hibernation in the spring looking healthy and hale.

Eating Healthy

Much like yourself, one of the most important things you can do for your trees is to make sure they are eating healthy. While for you that might mean cutting back on greasy burgers and adding more fruits and vegetables, for trees that primarily means mulching. Mulch, in its simplest form, is any organic (and sometimes, inorganic) material laid down on top of the soil as a cover. It helps the soil retain moisture and in most cases adds nutrients. In addition, the mulch acts like a blanket for the tree’s root system, keeping it warm and healthy during the extreme cold months. The nice thing about mulch is that it can be created using the materials you already have at home, namely, leaves. Instead of shipping them away in a leaf bag, save them, add water and let them sit for a couple of weeks. The resulting mixture makes for a wonderfully nutrient-rich drink for the trees. Now is also the time to monitor the water intake of trees, because a winter water drought can be almost as harmful as a summer one. Water them appropriately when the temps are still above freezing and you won’t have to worry about it later on.

A Little Off the Top

This is the perfect time to prune your trees. Pruning and trimming are practices that should be carried out through the entire year, but autumn is the perfect time to do so for several reasons. For one, the trees are dormant in hibernation, making any cutting you do potentially less harmful. For another, you can actually see the structure of the tree, so you will know where to make the cuts. Pruning relieves stress on certain parts of the tree, something that might be exacerbated by snow and ice, so do not neglect it. If you don’t feel comfortable making these kinds of cuts, trimming and pruning are just a couple of the many tree services offered by the professionals here at the Parke Company.

Autumn is coming to a close, but it is not over yet and now is the time to make sure things are in order when it comes to your trees. By ensuring they have a healthy diet and are properly trimmed, you can count on happy and healthy trees, and it never hurts to have a step up on the competition come spring.