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Winter Yard Maintenance: Top 3 Things on Landlord's List

February 07, 2019

If you live in the northern half of the United States, it's likely that your current landscaping situation resembles the north pole. You are probably more concerned with shoveling your driveway and cursing the polar vortex than weeding the lawn or trimming trees. However, for those of you in warmer climates, winter is the perfect time to get your rental looking sharp with some landscape maintenance.

Property Management Tips for Landlords and Property Management

Here are three reasons why you should embrace winter yard work, rather than waiting for spring:

1. It's not 100 degrees yet

Take advantage of the cool temperatures. Southerners know that the summers are long and hot, and the last thing most of us want to do once the heat has settled in is to work outdoors. So now is a great time to mulch your trees and flower beds, install that stone walkway, or spread the gravel for your xeriscaping project. You might find that without blistering temperatures and swarms of bloodthirsty mosquitoes, you actually enjoy the chance to get outside.

2. You can get a better view of your trees

Your grass has probably gone dormant and requires little maintenance right now, so you can turn your attention to your trees. Well-maintained trees can really boost your rental's curb appeal, and you want them to look their best. One reason many people trim their trees in the winter is that the leaves have fallen off. This allows you to see the true shape of the tree and its branches. All the better to remove spindly, dead, or unnecessary growth.

3. You can prevent the spread of disease

Many diseases, such as oak wilt and cedar hawthorn rust, spread most readily in the spring and summer growing season. In the winter, many insects, parasites, bacteria, and fungi that cause or spread disease have gone dormant.

Take oak wilt, for example, which can affect all oak trees, with red oaks being the most highly susceptible. Here's some advice from texasoakwilt.org:

"All wounding of oaks (including pruning) should be avoided from February through June. The least hazardous periods for pruning are during the coldest days in winter and extended hot periods in mid- to late summer. Regardless of season, all pruning cuts or other wounds to oak trees, including freshly-cut stumps and damaged surface roots, should be treated immediately with paint to prevent exposure to contaminated insect vectors. Any type of paint (latex, oil-based, spray-on, brush-on, or wound dressing) will suffice."

You might wonder if we are giving you this tip a little too late, as January is behind us. However, use your judgment. One landscaper I spoke to said that she aims to prune by Valentine's Day. If your extended forecast shows no sign of warming up for a few days, you might go ahead and prune your oaks. Remember, always use tools that are clean and sharp, and don't forget to cover the resulting wounds as described above. And if you suspect that your trees are infected, it's best to consult a professional arborist.

Naturally, the landscaping needs of your rental will vary based on the size of the property. If yours is a single family home with just a few trees, you might grab some tools and go take care of it yourself on a Saturday. You can find some guidance on your particular grass, tree, or bush by looking up how-to videos posted by the pros.

Fun fact: I just learned from such a video that the Bradford pear "...is a species of tree that is recognized for weak crotches, and they often self-destruct." See? Informative AND entertaining.

On the other hand, if you have an apartment complex with dozens of trees, a professional landscaping service might be your best bet. In that case, make sure you give clear instructions on how you want the maintenance done. For example, I have often seen groups of crepe myrtle trees that look like they have been uniformly given a flat-top haircut by the landscaper. However, after a bit of research, it seems that many experts feel that crepe myrtles need very little pruning at all. In fact, some refer to such aggressive pruning as "crepe murder," since it results in ugly knob-like growths and can even damage the health of the tree.

To our friends in the south, enjoy your mild winter while it lasts. If you can sneak in a little yard maintenance now, you'll be glad you did when your trees burst into bloom this spring.