By Nick Turner Explore Big Sky Contributor

This time of year the days are shorter and Mother Nature starts to show us signs that winter is around the corner. Fall is a beautiful season on its own, but offers so much potential for a great summer landscape the following year. By taking the proper steps before winter hits, you can save yourself a lot of spring-cleaning time and encourage a healthier landscape by accomplishing some simple chores.

The first thing is considering where you live, and being aware when frosts start occurring in your region of the country. You can protect annuals with frost blankets during cold nights to extend their growing season, and hardier plants benefit from water or mulch to aid moisture retention through the winter. Hardy plants rarely die from the cold and most of the time dehydration is the culprit. Very cold, dry days in the fall and early winter can pull moisture out of plants leaving them depleted.

Keep in mind snow is our friend in Montana. Rely on it to help protect plants, like a blanket insulating them from those bitter cold January days. If you have an irrigation system, talk to your local landscape company to discuss proper cut off times. This will ensure enough moisture retention within the plant to survive through the dry winter months.

Know what types of plants are on your property and how to prepare them for winter. Perennials and other grasses can benefit from being cut back to three inches from the ground in the fall following several hard frosts, reducing the potential for insects or diseases to overwinter on the foliage. Trees and shrubs can profit from pruning that will help with better flowers, overall plant health and structure.

Fall is my favorite time of year to work on the structuring of trees and shrubs because it’s easier to see what direction the plant is growing after a full summer of growth and brings great rewards in following years. Trees and shrubs heal faster and more effectively in the spring and fall so hold onto your hand pruners until this time of year.

Fertilizing plants in the fall helps them absorb essential nutrients they will store in their root systems over the winter, and then utilize in spring. Again, know what plant species you have and feed them the proper fertilizer.

Finally, irrigation systems will need to be blown out. By sending compressed air through your system, freezing temperatures won’t wreak havoc on your buried pipes. Don’t overlook this step – it could be the most costly part of your landscape if not done in time.

Fall sets the table for healthy plants the following summer. Stick with these few simple steps and you’re on your way to a flourishing landscape.

Nick Turner has been the horticulturalist at Big Sky Landscaping for the past four years. He received his degree in Landscape Development and Plant Science at State University of New York at Cobleskill. When he’s not helping plants survive and thrive you can find him with his wife and two huskies enjoying the surrounding mountains. Visit bslmt.com for more information Big Sky Landscaping’s services.