The foliage has fallen and the perennials have died off in the Berkshires and Southern Vermont, necessitating a thorough clean up of lawns and gardens if they are to spring back next year in good health.
Many dread the thought of raking leaves, clipping back withered plants and doing a final mowing, but the three-pronged attack to winterizing the yard can't be delayed any longer, according to local lawn care and garden experts.
"If you're going to have a healthy lawn in the spring, you don't want the grass smothered with leaves for winter," said Frank Romeo, owner of Cottage Care Inc. in Lee, Mass. "Mow your lawn at a normal height as long as you can until the leaves take over and you can't mulch them any more."
Jeff Stadnik of Green Mountain Landscape & Snow Service in Bennington, Vt., recommends leaving the grass height at 2.5 to 3 inches to ensure a good root system, but it can be a tad shorter or longer depending on the type of lawn and soil.
He said a thorough cleaning will keep the lawn from having dead spots next growing season.
For yards deluged with pine needles — the scourge of homeowners and lawn care professionals alike — raking them up is challenging and leaf blowers simply won't do.
"Use a power broom as the paddles work well on pine needles; blowers don't work as well on them," Stadnik said.
The sheer weight of fall droppings from trees bearing fruits and nuts also makes one's arm-weary from raking and then lifting the yard waste into bags, garden carts or the back of a pick-up truck to be hauled away. Romeo said the loads are heavier than usual this fall.
"I've never seen as many acorns and crab apples this year," Romeo said. "There are going to be some hefty deer this winter."
The vegetable gardens and flower beds also need a good cleaning; removing dead tomato plants, zucchini vines and cutting back herbaceous perennials so they will return unimpeded in the spring, according to Greg Ward, horticulturist with Ward's Nursery in Great Barrington, Mass.
"Take your peonies, black-eyed susans, flox or any other non-woody plant and cut them to the base," he said. "Woody plants should wait until spring."
Ward noted removing dead growth prepares the gardens for working in fresh compost in the spring — adding organic matter now can also improve the soil — and discourages rodents, such as voles, from using the layer of dead plants as cover to damage the beds.
If young trees and shrubs need protection from deer gnawing on them and being chilled by Old Man Winter, netting or fencing are physical barriers that work well.
"Burlap screen works well too, as it shades the plant and prevents the flow of cold air from doing serious harm," Ward said.
The leaves and garden waste are bagged or in piles, but lacking space to compost or properly dispose of on your own property, what do you do with all that yard stuff?
The region has several public and private yard waste recycling facilities such as the Bennington Transfer Station and meadow Farm in Lee. Most, if not all, accept leaves free, but do charge for brush and other organic material not easily converted into mulch or soil.
Some homeowners take leaves in plastic bags and line them around the foundation as insulation, or can be used immediately as natural fertilizer.
"It wouldn't hurt to have some leaves on the garden bed, just make sure to mulch them first," Stadnik said.