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.

Fertilizing in Winter to See More Green in Spring

springtime nashville tn

In Nashville, most lawns are planted with cool-growth grass like bluegrass and tall fescue. These grasses grow longer into the fall and actually don’t go dormant until after the first hard freeze. Because of this “cool-weather” growth, a Nashville lawn can benefit from a late fall or early winter application of fertilizer.

The Parke Company, a full-service Nashville landscaping service and tree service, often recommends a late season application of fertilizer to feed the grass for the limited time it will continue to grow. Just as importantly, the fertilizer allows the grass to store nutrients in the roots, allowing the grass to come up green and lush in spring.

Winter, even our comparatively mild winters, can be hard on a lawn. Because the grass turns brown, many people seem to forget that the lawn still needs care, mostly protective care. A late fertilizer application, and even a late lawn aeration can go a long way in making your spring lawn strong and healthy, but it has to survive to spring first.

Winter Lawn Care Tips

Lawn problems are not limited to those months when the temperatures go up and the sun shines all day. Winter can bring problems that can actually kill grass, trees, shrubs, and flowering plants. To keep that risk to a minimum, follow these simple tips:

  • Keep your lawn clean. Dormant grass can be crushed. Grass can be “broken” by foot traffic or by something as light as a pile of leaves that sits on the grass in the same place for months. Winter can litter your lawn, creating those “light weight” dangers. Snow and winter rains will strip the last of any leaves left, snap twigs and weaker limbs, and scatter debris from the neighborhood onto your lawn. Periodically clean up the litter and do a leaf pickup. Your leaf rake is probably your best tool. It’s time consuming but it gets the job done without using a heavy machine and it gets you some outdoor exercise.
  • Keep your walkways clear. One way to minimize foot traffic on your lawn is to ensure your sidewalks and driveway are kept cleared of ice and snow. If you use a deicer to clear your walkways, make sure you use a plant safe formulation. Sodium chloride, AKA rock salt, will not only corrode your sidewalk, but if it gets on anything living like grass or shrubs, it may kill it.
  • Cover your fragile shrubs. If you have rose bushes or other more fragile plants, cover them with burlap. Nashville gets a little snow, but we get more than our fair share of sleet. A good sleet storm – and it only takes one – can devastate a rose garden.

Of course, if you don’t have the time to maintain your lawn in the winter, you can always call the Parke Company for assistance. Preventing damage in winter makes taking care of your lawn in the spring significantly easier. If we can help you with that, we would be delighted to assist.

Safe Salt and Mineral Options for Your Walkways This Winter

We are fortunate in Nashville. While winters can bring some nasty weather, our cold months are relatively mild compared to our neighbors to the north. That said, we still get ice and snow and have our fair share of slip and fall accidents as a result.

So how do Nashville homeowners wage the deicing war? Unfortunately, many attack the ice with rock salt (sodium chloride). Rock salt has one redeeming characteristic: it is dirt cheap. But if you take a hard look at what rock salt can do, it quickly becomes obvious that repeated use can cause serious, expensive damage.

Rock salt is an abrasive and a corrosive and will wreak havoc on concrete walkways and driveways. At the Parke Company, Nashville’s premiere landscaping service, we are concerned about how sodium chloride affects our clients’ landscape. Not surprisingly, rock salt is not plant friendly.

How Rock Salt Damages Your Landscape

There are a number of ways that sodium chloride can damage plants, trees, and grass. Salt spray either from the road or from traffic on your driveway can burn stems and buds of deciduous woody plants, plus stems, buds, leaves and needles of evergreen plants.

Run off is another sneakier way that sodium chloride does damage. When diluted with water, sodium chloride splits into separate ions. These ions can prevent absorption of other nutrients like potassium and phosphorus. Chloride can make its way to leaves and interfere with chlorophyll. When this process is disturbed in deciduous shrubs and trees, the plant can die.

None of the signs of sodium chloride in the soil will become evident until the spring when the plants and trees begin to renew. If the concentration is high enough, a homeowner could be looking at replacing shrubs or even a tree removal.

Safe Alternatives to Rock Salt

There are a number of chemical and non-chemical substitutes for rock salt that are safe (or safer) for your plants. They all have different characteristics but what they all have in common is they cost more than rock salt.

Here’s a quick rundown:

  1. Potassium chloride: This is perhaps the friendliest deicer for plants. It is only effective down to 25 degrees but that covers most of Nashville’s cold weather.
  2. Magnesium chloride: Works down to 1 degree and is plant friendly. It may leave a residue on driveways and sidewalks that will need to be washed off once the risk of icing is over.
  3. Calcium chloride: Kind of overkill. This works down to -23 degrees. If Nashville gets that kind of weather, your plants are in serious trouble any way you look at it. Calcium chloride works fast, which means it melts the ice and creates water, which is subject to refreezing.
  4. Heated Driveways: The ultimate solution. Without question the most effective way to prevent ice from forming or melting it if it has. Exceptionally convenient and also exceptionally expensive. Installation involves digging up your existing driveway.

Managing ice is a serious concern. There is the obvious risk associated with ice but you have to consider the consequences of the way you fight it. As a leading tree service, we have seen trees, bushes, and perennials that have been sufficiently damaged by deicers so that they needed to be removed. Nothing is sadder than seeing a tree cut down or removing a tree simply because the wrong kind of deicer was used.

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.