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Get Your Lawn and Garden Ready for Winter

Is your garden ready for winter? Here are some tips to help you get prepared.

Garden chores

  • Move terra-cotta and ceramic containers to a protected location like a garden shed or garage. Clean clay pots (figure A) to remove the excess salt or algae build-up and repair damaged ones.

  • Bring tender plants, such as tropicals and containerized plants, inside for overwintering. Replant in pots if necessary and place them in a garage, heated garden shed or indoor room. Take cuttings of annuals, such as coleus, and begin propagating new plants for next season.

  • Dig and store tender summer- and fall-flowering bulbs, such as dahlias. Plant spring-flowering bulbs like daffodils and tulips. Plant bulbs with their roots down (figure B). If the bulb has a sprout at the top, it can still be planted.

  • Avoid heavy pruning of trees and shrubs going into the winter months, but do prune away broken branches. Touch up mulch at the base of plants once temperatures are consistently cold.

  • In the perennial border, touch up mulch around plants for added winter protection. A layer of mulch about two to four inches deep is ideal (figure C). Unless you prefer otherwise, it is fine to leave foliage that has died back as it will help provide additional protection at the crown of plants. Leave ornamental grasses intact without cutting them back to discourage new growth during warm spells and encourage birds to visit.

  • Extend the harvest of cool season veggies like lettuce and spinach by constructing a cold frame around them.

  • Remove spent plants from the vegetable garden and add them to the compost pile. Discard diseased plants in the trash. Turn over the soil with a garden fork (or till) to expose underground pests to cold temperatures. Caution: don't work soil when it's wet! Planting a cover crop can help reduce soil erosion, capture nutrients, reduce weeds and enrich the soil for spring.

  • Depending on where you live, there are different methods to winterizing roses. A good rule of thumb is to remove the foliage from on and around the base of rose plants; this keeps foliar diseases from overwintering and coming back next growing season. Prune away branches that show signs of decay or insect infestation; also cut long stems that can whip around in the wind. Throw away diseased foliage and cut branches in the trash, instead of composting it. Spray roses and the soil immediately surrounding them with a fungicide to protect plants through winter and hopefully keep disease from overwintering. A generous layer of mulch, topsoil or compost heaped around the graft union can also help protect it against the cold (figure D).

  • Winterize the compost bin by covering it with a tarp; this will help to keep the composting process going through the cold season. Occasionally soak the pile with water to keep it moist. Add an insulation of leaves or straw on the top and the sides of the pile.

  • Fall is an ideal time for fertilizing your lawn. Remove fallen leaves by raking and composting them or mulch them with a mulching lawn mower.

  • Whether you have a pond made of a flexible vinyl or a pre-formed plastic liner, there are steps you should take to winterize a water feature. Cut back hardy and tender aquatic plants. Bring tender plants indoors and store in a shallow container filled with a few inches of water near a sunny window. Because some plants like tropical water lilies can be somewhat difficult to overwinter indoors, it may be best to treat some tender plants as annuals. Remove tender floaters, like this water lettuce or water hyacinth, that won't survive the winter indoors or outdoors (figure E). If your pond is less than about two feet deep, gather fish into plastic bags filled with pond water and bring to an indoor aquarium. Sink plastic bags containing the fish into the aquarium and allow time for the water to come to a temperature equilibrium before dumping the fish into the aquarium. If fish are kept outside during the winter, stop feeding them as their metabolism slows down. Remove leaf litter or other debris from the water.

  • Turn off water to irrigation systems and set automatic timers to the "off" mode. You may not want to turn the controller box off completely so you don't lose the watering schedule and have to reprogram it next season. It may be necessary to drain or blow the water out of the pipes. Consult your local irrigation specialist on recommendations. If any pipes, valves or the backflow preventer are above ground and exposed to the elements, wrap them with protective insulation, like insulator tape, to keep them from freezing. But don't insulate or block air vents or the pump motor.

    Garden tools
    Preparing your garden tools for the winter helps to promote their longevity and makes using them next season much easier. Mark these must-do to-dos off your winterizing checklist.

  • Wash off dirt that has dried and hardened onto garden tools, such as shovels and hoes. Apply linseed oil to wooden handles to prevent desiccation and cracking.

    Sharpen blades of tools, such as pruners (figure F), hedge trimmers and shovels.

  • Drain garden hoses and take them inside for the winter. Otherwise, water left sitting inside hoses can freeze and expand, causing the hose lining to rupture and create leaks. Repair leaky hoses and replace old and damaged washers and fittings.

  • Thoroughly rinse pesticide sprayers and fertilizer/grass seed spreaders. Allow to dry before storing.

    Power equipment
    Keep expensive lawn and garden power equipment running efficiently with these winter maintenance tips.

  • Empty gasoline out of power equipment. To empty your lawn mower's gas tank, use it to mulch fall leaves on the lawn.

  • Give four-cycle engines, such as lawn mowers and tillers, an oil change. Two-cycle engines, like string trimmers, use a gas-oil mixture in the gas tank. Although they don't require an oil change, the gas-oil mixture should be drained from the tank and properly disposed.

  • Inspect spark plugs and replace worn-out ones.

  • Check air filters and replace old, dirty ones.

  • Scrape or hose off grass and other grime that has collected on power equipment, especially lawn mowers (figure G). Remove blades and sharpen before putting them back on.

    For the Birds
    Create a winter haven for your feathered friends. Provide them with the essentials: food, shelter and water.

  • Keep bird feeders refilled throughout the winter season (figure H). If you're going on vacation during the holidays, you may want to think twice before leaving bird feeders unattended.

  • Don't want to spend a fortune on birdseed or the time filling up bird feeders? Consider growing fruiting shrubs and trees that birds find naturally tasty.

  • Drain and clean ceramic birdbaths before bringing them indoors. Clean all other birdbaths and keep them refilled.

  • Provide shelter from the cold by way of birdhouses. Or, place nest-making materials, such as yarn, hair and dried grass, around the yard for birds to collect.

    House exterior
    Don't forget about winterizing the exterior of your home. Weatherproof your home with this checklist of cleaning gutters, inspecting and cleaning chimneys, caulking windows and more.

    Odds and ends

  • Avoid the winter blues with landscape brighteners (figure I).

  • Inspect and winterize garden furniture and ornaments accordingly.

  • Protect plants from snow and de-icers with a snow shed or drifting snow with a snow fence (figure J).

  • Before freezing temperatures arrive, pressure wash sidewalks to remove the year's accumulated dirt and algae. Removing this dirt helps to improve traction (especially helpful in icy conditions!) on walking surfaces.

  • Turn off outdoor water connections and cover exposed outdoor water spickets and pipes with thick insulative material.

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