You’ve worked hard at landscaping your property, so the last thing you want to do is make mistakes that can set you back to the “start over” position, come next spring. Unfortunately, some well-meaning homeowners kill their plants with kindness, especially at this time of year.


Lawns and certain plants can still benefit from fertilizing and other nutrient-providing treatments, but be sure to read the labels on plant-food packages. These chemical applications have been tested to specifically accommodate the square footage and other growing conditions of your lawn.

“Too many people think if they double up [on fertilizer] before winter, they’ll get better results,” said Jon Feldman, Construction Project Manager for R&S Landscaping, Midland Park. “But when it comes to feeding lawns and plants, more is definitely not better.”

Another common fallacy – cutting the grass shorter means you have to mow it less. That’s actually not the case, though.

Feldman explained that the blades both cool and shade the roots. Mowing too short can leave grass open to disease and scorch, while too long can allow fungus to grow.

“You always want to maintain a normal cut,” he said, which is between 2 and 3 inches.


Pruning is done for a variety of reasons:

  • to strengthen a tree or shrub for renewed growth next spring
  • to remove dead or diseased branches
  • to reshape an overgrown plant.

However, when you trim improperly or at the wrong time, you can do more harm than good. Every plant has a different pruning process. Feldman said customers tell him they’ve had lilacs for 20 years that never got any flowers. He guesses this is due to over-zealous pruning that lopped off any growth potential.

“Too-severe pruning can send trees and shrubs into shock and rapid decline,” said Debra Cianfrone of Kodiak Tree Experts, Teaneck. “Also, many types of trees should never be ‘topped’ [which involves taking off the upward growth to reduce the overall height]. This will lead to possible loss of the tree, or weak and improper growth when it starts to re-grow.”

Feldman noted, “Some set their buds in the previous year, like now, and others set them in the spring right before they bloom. Do your homework to know which [type of] plants you have and when is the best time to trim.”


Fall is a great season to plant many shrubs and trees, said Cianfrone, as they will have time to set a good root structure before having to deal with the heat of next summer. However, certain species should not be planted late in the fall; hollies and dogwoods, for example, fare better if planted in spring. Incorrect planting – such as too deep or not deep enough – also will cause problems.

“If the root ball isn’t even with the existing ground around the plant, the plant will die,” Cianfrone said. “If it’s too high above grade, the plant will struggle and not develop a good root structure.”

Poor soil conditions also can be detrimental to the health of a tree or shrub, so avoid planting in rocky, sandy or soggy spots. Don’t go mulch-crazy, either, Cianfrone warned. “A 3-inch layer is best, but be careful to not place the mulch directly against the tree or shrub, as this will cause the base to decay,” he said.


Improper watering is very common, Feldman said. “Too much water robs the soil of oxygen and can lead to root rot, fungus and death of the plant,” he explained. “Too little can desiccate (completely dry out) the plant, so the stems won’t be able to support the leaves.”

Finding the right balance can be tricky, but there are some basic rules.

Keep watering trees and other plants in the fall until the ground freezes, Cianfrone said. “And remember, it’s better to water for a longer period than short periods, as this will train the roots to grow deeper, creating a healthier plant.”

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