Gardening Basics

Get Your Lawn and Garden Ready for Winter

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

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  • 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.

  • Figure G

  • 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.

    Figure H

  • 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.

  • Figure I

    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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