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A sense of urgency accompanies the end of November: What haven't we finished outside to get the lawn and landscape ready for serious winter? Time is short! To help you prioritize, a couple of things can wait.

First, there is no need to rush about -- yet -- bundling up the tender shrubs or recently planted evergreens you want to protect from desiccation in the winter winds. Second, you can wait to put tee-pees over the unfortunate shrubs under the eaves (the ones that may split or smash when ice and snow crash onto them). Third, you can wait until the ground is frozen to finish mulching over the perennials and root zones of woody plants; just gather the mulch and set aside.

Here's what can't wait much longer:

Late autumn lawn care

Mow the lawn once more if it's long. A mulching mower is great because it deposits chopped-up clippings. If you have a side-throwing mower, plan your direction so that you pass again over the clippings. Let them lie; they don't cause thatch.

Fertilize the lawn. Cornell's turf grass researchers (Dr. Frank Rossi nationally honored) report that late fall is the optimum time to fertilize, followed by Labor Day and Memorial Day for higher-maintenance situations. Mid-fall, however, is not recommended because it sets up new top growth -- rather than root growth -- which weakens the plant and increases the likelihood of snow mold next spring.

It's best done in late summer, but it can't hurt to over-seed bare or weak spots after raking the soil and adding compost. Repeat where needed in spring.

Rake and remove thick leaves which will harm the lawn by matting over winter. A thin covering of chopped leaves is fine.

Drain the lawn mower, sharpen blades and lubricate now, or send it out for service.

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Tree and shrub prep

It is crucial, maybe life-saving, to keep the hose out and keep watering until everything is frozen. Specifically:

Water transplanted trees and shrubs -- even those planted during the last three years -- until the root-zone is wet 15 inches down. Yes, we had lots of rain but there have been long windy periods that were extremely drying.

Watch that potted plants don't dry now, which could be fatal. Water them, and then either sink them in a holding bed, get them up against the sheltered side of the house or cluster them together. Pack with straw or leaves.

Make sure that water can get through, if you have used decomposing leaves as mulch under shrubs and trees. Oak leaves -- or any very thick leaves -- form mats and are better chopped up or composted.

Finally, I'm wishing you enough sunny days for your landscape care -- and then a lovely holiday in which to give thanks for the plants and creatures that give us back so much.

Sally Cunningham is an educator in Consumer/Community Horticulture with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County, and gardening book author.

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