As the days get shorter and the nights get longer the hint of fall is in the air. The trees will begin to pull back resources from the leaves and store this energy for spring growth. This is a good time to check the mulch around the trees and shrubs. Look for at least 2-3 inches of raw mulch over the root zone; this will help regulate sudden changes in temperature and moisture levels. Stir the surface of the mulch to break up crusted areas so moisture can penetrate through the mulch and not run off. Pull any mulch away from the trunk or stems of the plants at least 2-4 inches so the mulch is not piled against the trunk, as this can lead to damage from rodents, insects and decay fungi.
Make sure your trees and shrubs go into the winter months with adequate moisture in the soil. The leaves may be off the plant during the dormant season, but the root system remains active all through the winter. When the soil moisture evaporates in the cold dry winter air the small fibrous roots will dry out and die. These small roots perform the bulk of the water and nutrient uptake for the plant.
Fall cleanup can help with reducing certain diseases on trees and shrubs. You will never be able to completely remove all infected material, but reducing the amount of wintering spores near the plant can be helpful for the following Spring.
Fall is a good time to inspect the tree for structural problems when leaves do not obscure the main branches. Trees with artificial supports, like cables and brace rods, should be inspected annually to determine if they are intact and evaluated to see if they need adjustments or replacement. At this time the tree can be evaluated to determine if trimming is required to reduce branch weight and wind resistance.
Certain pests can be controlled with applications of horticultural oils during the dormant periods. Fall and spring are best times to apply these oil sprays because there are fewer leaves to block the materials from covering the pests. There are limitations for these applications. The temperatures need to be above freezing and some plant varieties nearby can be adversely affected by the over spray of the oil.
Before you hide yourself away for the winter, take some time to give your trees a little help to make the long winter months more bearable.