Ruben Keogh is a retired plumber, landscaper and lawn-scaper who discovered his true calling after progressing from apprentice to journeyman blogger. When he earns enough experience, wit and insight to become a master blogger, he’ll let you know. Meanwhile, Ruben spends his time daydreaming about fishing in Costa Rica, gathering with close friends to grill the fruits of that fishing, and hiking with his lovely wife Gina (not necessarily in that order, or course).
Those who run in gardening/horticulture/landscaping/lawn-care circles as a pro or hobbyist may be familiar with a tendency amongsome of their clients, friends, coworkers or co-hobbyists to lapse into a kind of mild depression when the time comes to prepare their plots for winter. Not that the impulse isn’t understandable- the flowers have disappeared; the fruits, veggies and herbs yield their deliciousness no more and the grass has retreated with the sun. However, rather than thinking of the beginning-of-winter ritual as an ending, it’s perhaps more accurate (and definitely less depressing) to think of winterizing your lawn, garden, tools and irrigation system as an investment in a stunning greenery, flowers and edibles when the sun reemerges.
If someone were to compare their lawn to a pet, a good argument could be made for a metaphorical kinship with the family dog. Like said pooch, if treated with a basic level of care and affection, your lawn will prove a dependable, low-maintenance and comfortable companion. Not all that much preparation is necessary– for the basically healthy lawn, in fact, a dethatching rake-over and fall aeration should suffice. Over the course of the summer, time and traffic will likely compact the topsoil and establish a layer of thatch.
For the unfamiliar, thatch is a layer of dead grass and other organic material that accumulates in and on your lawn. A thin layer is to be expected and can prove beneficial. A thick layer can absorb water and choke your grass off, keeping out the light and air it needs. Aeration is the practice of punching a series of holes or divots in your sod- opening up the earth and de-compacting soil for healthier roots and greater distribution of water.
Aeration can range in intensity from professional “core aeration” (the one that leaves behind all those plugs of sod with grass hats) to poking holes in your lawn with a pitchfork. A personal favorite is the aerating crampons that can be strapped to the bottom of the shoes, the wearer stomping around the yard to aerate (for those, the longer the spike, the better). If you feel that your lawn could use a little extra TLC for its winter nap, consider applying a high-potassium fertilizer and/or over-seeding and top-dressing. Otherwise, it should be good to go.
Appropriately, considering its bright colors and more exotic flora, winterizing the garden is a little bit higher-maintenance. The process can differ according to the garden’s inhabitants.
Roses– You don’t want your roses going into growth spurts when the frost comes, so stop fertilizing in early autumn and stop dead-heading them soon after. If your winters get real cold, consider piling about a foot of dirt around the bases of your rose bushes and wrapping the bushes in burlap sacks.
Container Plants– Because there is less soil, less cover and fewer closely-stationed leafy neighbors, container (and hanging) plants are much more prone to freezing. If it’s possible, bring your container plants in for the winter, or at least the coldest parts of it. Terra cotta pots are particularly prone to both freezing and cracking. If greening-up your house by bringing those plants inside isn’t an option- do a bit of insulation. Wrap the pots in old blankets, burlap, bubble wrap or whatever else can create a wind barrier and layer of winter warmth.
Precious and Planted– For those earth-planted specimens that can’t be brought inside but are still close to your heart- those about which you’re worried about the worst of winter freeze damaging- once again insulation is that name of the game. Nurseries and many home-improvement stores stock frost blankets, row covers, “hot caps” and similar sorts of insulation solutions. Sometimes the burlap wrap can be enough. For those real gems whose health you can’t justify leaving to a burlap wrap, though, consider the “wall of water” protectors. Based on anecdotal, reported, and personal experience, those water-filled shields, when properly stationed and positioned, work really well.
An important feature of that earlier-mentioned investment in next year’s lawn and garden is investing in the tools you’ll need next year to work on them both!
Traditional Gardening and Lawn-Care Tools– Although this one is fairly simple and straightforward it’s often overlooked. Basic maintenance, preparation and care of your tools can extend their usefulness far, far past their life expectancy if ill-treated. This goes for all trowels, dibbers, hoes, rakes, hand forks, shovels, spades and whatever else: before retiring them for the winter, clean them of any clinging dirt and mud. Use water and cleaning rags if necessary. Once clean, dry them thoroughly before storing them somewhere they’ll be safe from falling onto the ground, floor or any other sources of rust-creating moisture.
Your Water System– To avoid the considerable waste of time and money you’ll encounter if you don’t winterize your irrigation infrastructure, make this investment. If you can shut off the water to the outside of your house, do so and then run the remaining water out of your faucets and hoses. Unplug all hoses and unscrew all attachments from them. Curl the hoses and store them somewhere they won’t freeze if water remains inside them. Wrap any exposed water pipes in pipe insulation. Wrap your outdoor spigots thoroughly in rags or towels, wrap those in (a) sheet(s) of plastic and then tape it off. (For a lower-impact insulation, many hardware and home improvement outlets sell insulating faucet cap-sleeves.)
If you have a sprinkler system and know how to drain it manually, do so. If not, it really is worth the expense to hire a professional to drain them or blow them out. It’s pretty cheap to do so and, as mentioned, far cheaper than dealing with burst underground pipes. Keep in mind that your lawn is greatly affected by the utilities in use in the yard. For instance it may be of great value to make sure that your septic system is up to date, and can withstand ground freezing, if you are expecting a particularly cold winter. There’s nothing wrong with asking questions, and a local plumbing service should be able to help.
Now that the yard is taken care of, find a warm blanket, make up some hot chocolate and daydream about how great your lawn and garden are going to look come spring!