Aerial view of Winston-Salem, NC in the fall.

Fall Tree Care Checklist for Winston-Salem, Greensboro & Surrounding Area

Fall in Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and surrounding areas is a great time to enjoy our temperate weather, changing fall leaves, and a break from summer storms. It’s also an ideal time of year to walk your property and take note of any issues that may need to be resolved. And, of course, it’s time to do some fall tree care and garden maintenance.

In this article, we’ll cover some yard and tree care tasks that you might want to complete between September and December, including:

  • Plant new trees (fall is a great time for planting in the Piedmont Triad area!),
  • Clean up fall debris,
  • Decide if you want to leave some leaves on the ground (yes, really),
  • Feed (and water) your trees,
  • Add some mulch, and
  • Prepare your yard for the colder temperatures that will soon arrive.

Plant New Trees

Contrary to popular belief, fall is a great time to plant new trees. Trees planted once the weather cools in fall can establish themselves better than those planted in the springtime. The same goes for shrubs. Cooler air and soil temperatures allow the roots to grow with less stress than during the heat of summer. Plus, it gives trees time to focus on that growth below ground before producing leaves and/or flowers in the spring.

If you’re wondering which trees to plant in your Triad area yard this autumn, here are our top recommendations:

Trees in a historic section of Winston-Salem during fall.

Clean Up Fall Debris

Cleaning up your yard in autumn helps your garden and your trees remain pest- and disease-free. And that means you’ll have less need for pesticide and fungicide use (that’s good for plants, pollinators, and your wallet).

Reasons for cleaning up your yard in autumn include:

  • Removing leaves and debris that might harbor insect pests and fungal spores over the winter
  • Keeping planting areas clear for top-dressing with compost and replenishing mulch
  • Adding new material to your leaf-mold pile or compost pile, if you have them
  • Maintaining clear access to trees that require dormant spraying

When you’re cleaning up, consider leaving any seed heads and berries that will provide winter food for birds and wildlife. You can prune any berry-producing trees after the fruit has been eaten and cut off seed heads after their seeds are gone.

Also, notice that “clean up” does not include major tree pruning! Of course, you should remove dead, disease, damaged, or crossing/rubbing branches any time you notice them. But it’s best to leave major pruning until winter when trees are dormant.

Regional Fall Yard Cleanup Information

Each city and/or county in the Piedmont Triad area provides yard waste disposal facilities that you can bring leaves and other debris to. They also have fall leaf pickup services that require you only to sweep leaves to the curb.

Winston-Salem / Forsyth County

Greensboro

Kernersville

You can find more information about yard waste disposal and leaf cleanup on our Local Resources pages.

Colorful fall leaves against a blue sky.

Leave Leaves Alone

While cleaning up leaves from your yard gives it a tidier look, many are now promoting the more natural approach of leaving fallen leaves on the ground.

Just be sure to run over them with a lawnmower to cut the leaves into smaller pieces. Skipping this step will result in impenetrable mats of leaves that can kill your lawn and suffocate plants. The chopped-up leaves will break down over time and provide nutrients to your lawn.

The key here is to first make sure that none of your trees or shrubs are infested with any kind of pest or disease. You don’t want to make the situation worse by providing harmful insects, fungi, or bacteria with a safe, warm spot to spend the winter!

If you want to take advantage of the leaves without the messiness of leaves all over your lawn, you can gather them up and use them as part of a compost pile. You can also shred them to use as a natural mulch in your planting beds or garden.

Leaving leaves alone (or just shredding them in place) will make your fall tree care much quicker and easier!

Feed Your Trees

Feeding your trees doesn’t mean scattering a few handfuls of weed ‘n feed around the yard. Instead, we recommend adding a layer of compost over bare soil. It’s one of the best ways to enrich your soil and provide long-term soil nutrients for your trees.

Synthetic fertilizers provide an instant hit of nitrogen or phosphorus to plant roots. This is not what trees or plants need as they’re entering winter dormancy! In contrast, compost breaks down and bonds to soil particles. As it does, it improves the soil’s texture, water-holding ability, and nutrient levels.

Before winter arrives, add a layer of compost around your trees. Spread it all the way out to the dripline (edge of the tree’s canopy), but keep it away from the tree trunk. This ensures that when your trees wake up from their winter dormancy they’ll find a source of nutrition readily available for their roots to take up. Trees use stored energy reserves to emerge from dormancy and make new spring leaves and flowers. Compost provides minerals and nutrients to refill those reserves and support summer growth, making for healthier and more vigorous trees next year.

Red mulch spread around the base of a tree.

Keep Roots Cozy With Mulch

After you’ve top-dressed your soil with compost, add a thick layer of organic mulch atop it. Mulch, like compost, contributes to the long-term health of your trees.

In summer, mulch helps keep soil cool and slows the evaporation of water. In winter, mulch tempers the cold that can kill a tree’s delicate feeder roots and prevents extreme soil temperature swings.

We recommend using organic mulch, meaning mulch made from organic matter such as wood chips. Apply it in a layer 3 inches thick or more. This thickness provides insulation from winter cold and, if the winter is dry, it keeps the soil moist and protected from drying winds.

Adding mulch in fall has other benefits as well, including:

  • suppressing spring weeds,
  • reducing soil-borne diseases (if the soil is beneath a mulch layer, fungal spores on the soil’s surface can’t be splashed onto tree leaves and branches),
  • keeping mowers and string trimmers away from your tree trunks (mechanical damage from these can girdle your trees, which will eventually kill them),
  • improving soil health as the organic mulch breaks down and becomes part of your soil.

It’s important to understand that organic mulch will naturally break down and needs regular replenishment. Regularly refreshing your mulch is a small price to pay for the many benefits it provides to your trees and your garden.

REMINDER: An open area of your garden that’s free of mulch provides habitat for native bees, which are solitary ground dwellers. The only downside of mulch is that it smothers bee larvae and prevents native bees from laying their eggs in your garden. So, keep an area of well-draining soil open for these beneficial insects who will make their nests in late winter and early spring. While many of us think honeybees are the only bees that pollinate our flowers, native bees do a lot of this work. And, unless you’re a flower, they won’t bother you.

PRO TIP – Check with your local government to see if they offer free leaf mulch and reasonably priced wood mulch and compost to residents. Many cities and counties do, as green waste is a valuable resource. In fact, North Carolina state lawn prohibits disposing of yard waste (e.g., leaves, grass clippings, tree limbs, brush, etc.) in sanitary landfills. Winston-Salem, for example, distributes leaf compost for free (usually in spring) from the Forum 52 Yard Waste Facility. Greensboro residents can purchase compost at the White Street Landfill.

Give Your Trees a Drink

Depending on how much rainfall we’ve received lately, your trees may need a long, deep drink of water before winter arrives. Young trees in particular have small root systems and will need irrigation to expand their roots into the soil. If you’ve planted any trees or shrubs in the last two years, give them an extra drink this fall (and water in the winter whenever possible).

Watering long and deep is key. Set a garden hose to a slow trickle for several hours (placed at the drip line of the tree, not the trunk). This will ensure water gets down to the tree’s root zone without running off.

Older, established trees may need water before the colder months too, especially if the weather has been drier than normal.

Burlap wrapped around a young spruce tree as part of fall tree care.

Prepare for Colder Temperatures

Adding organic mulch will do a lot to regulate the temperature of the soil around your trees and plants. But, if you have particularly sensitive or non-native plants, you may need to do more to protect them.

Young trees and some broadleaf evergreens can benefit from being wrapped in burlap, especially if they may be exposed to road spray salt.

Wrapping can also prevent deer from eating your shrubs, plants, and trees. Even the best deer repellents won’t keep hungry deer away in winter, but burlap wrapping will.

Fall Tree Care Checklist

If you complete the fall tree care tasks listed above, your yard should be well-equipped for the upcoming winter. A little time spent on yard maintenance in the fall will help your trees and yard stay healthy throughout the year, providing a place for you to enjoy the outdoors and our beautiful Piedmont area in every season.

If you have questions about your trees, would like a tree inspection, or need professional, experienced tree care for your Piedmont Triad area property, call Beaver Tree Service today!

Want to know more? Check out our other seasonal tree care tips: