Considerations For Winterizing Your Garden

garden

by Donna De Palma 

As we wistfully say goodbye to the warmth and glow of summer, here are a few simple tasks for getting your yard and garden ready for the cold weather ahead.  Preparing your garden, and your lawn, for winter is a smart way to ensure they’ll be lush and healthy next spring.

Let’s start with the biggest area of growth: your lawn.  First, find out what type of grass you have.  In Upstate New York, cooler season varieties including fescue, Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass benefit from being fertilized before the snow falls.

Cool-season grasses grow heartily in fall which is why they prefer to be fertilized now.  Use an organic fertilizer to keep your yard habitat-friendly.  You want to look for a winterizing fertilizer to apply in late October through November.  Be sure it contains all 16 essential nutrients.

Grass is fertilized in the fall because with shorter days, and cooler air, the growth of turf grass begins to slow.  Grass returns like a velvety green canopy each spring because of the shift of nutrients to its roots during winter months to fuel its spring revival.  To conserve nutrients, grass shifts food reserves from leaves to roots. Even though air temps continue to fall at this time of year, plant roots remain active in the soil.

By fertilizing grass now you’re feeding active roots so roots have even more nutrients to store for winter.  Grass that’s fed in fall greens up quickly in spring. If you fertilize, you’ll have a thick and lush spread come April.

In our region, fall is also the time to spread cool-weather grass seed in patches of your lawn that have shown the most wear and tear.  Take advantage of whatever warmer days we have to seed. New growth shows best when daytime temperatures are between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mow your lawn for the last time in early to mid-November. Fall is a good time to aerate your lawn to allow air, water, and nutrients to reach down to the roots. This is especially important for high-traffic lawns, which can suffer from thatch buildup, if left untreated.

Maintenance is key to a good lawn come spring.  Removing fallen leaves ensures your lawn’s health.  Raking also removes thatch, a layer of dead grass on top of your lawn that can compact grass. Avoid thatch or else water and nutrients will be prevented from reaching the roots.  Pull weeds before the snow flies.

After your lawn, look to your garden’s pre-winter needs.  As fall progresses and temperatures drop, plants that aren’t killed outright by frost prepare for dormancy. New perennials and delicate shrubs will need some help to get through the winter.  Prepare your garden for cold weather by winterizing new growth plants.

The freeze-and-thaw cycle that root balls face in winter can damage plants. Mulch is a great way to insulate your recently-planted perennials. Mulch helps insulate soil and prevents frost heave, a condition that occurs when soil repeatedly freezes and thaws.  When frost heave occurs, plant crowns and roots can be exposed to freezing air and drying winds. Frost heave will actually push plants out of the soil and can damage your garden.

When adding fall mulch, you’ll need a layer that’s six inches deep. Wait until the ground freezes before adding a layer of organic material as winter mulch. Straw, crumbled leaves, cornstalks, pine needles or clean hay all work as well as commercial grades.

Shallow-rooted perennials are especially prone to frost heave, so be sure to mulch around them. Another option is covering a new bed with burlap.  Mulch bulb beds with evergreen boughs to protect the soil from shifting and cracking during the winter.

Remember, in the fall, newly transplanted trees and shrubs, divisions of perennials, and hardy bulbs are all growing roots, drawing on soil nutrients and moisture around them. Earthworms and microbes in soil are still processing organic materials they find. Create a winter-friendly habitat and one that will provide even temperature for roots.  Once soil is frozen, mulch keeps it frozen.

While you’re in your garden, do some fall cutting. Cut back dry stems of perennials to soil level after frost. Clear out blackened stems and foliage. Pull dead annuals. Cleaning up your garden helps eliminate pests and disease. Be sure to leave any plants that have winter foliage intact.  Compost dead plant debris to create an organic soil conditioner. Active compost piles kill weed seeds and disease pathogens.

Roses require extra attention as winter sets in.  The last feeding of the season should be two months before the first frost.  Stop pruning, and cutting blossoms then too to avoid stimulating new growth which will be killed by the first frost.

Just before the first hard frost, spread fresh mulch of wood chips, shredded bark, or chopped leaves around the base of rose plants, extending as far out as the branch tips.  Once the ground freezes, add more mulch.  Because winter temperatures can drop below zero here, build a mount of mulch, then add more material after every freeze.  Eventually mulch should virtually cover the bush. For an extra step of protection around roses, create a framework using wire, cloth or tomato cages stuffed with leaves or straw to protect plant crowns.

Climbing roses are vulnerable to winter wind and sun. Give them special attention in Upstate NY where winter temperatures go below zero. Wrap the canes with burlap or detach them from your trellis then lay horizontally on the ground. Cover with a mulch of leaves, wood chips, or soil.  All roses or young perennials require protecting plant crowns with a deeper layer of mulch or soil after the ground freezes. Always wait for soil to freeze first before protecting plant crowns.

Evergreen roots freeze in soil and stop taking up water when cold sets in. Winterizing evergreen trees and shrubs means protecting them from winter winds. Erect a burlap screen on the windy side of plants (most often northwest). Drive stakes into the soil before the ground freezes. When temperatures are steadily in the 20s, staple or tie burlap to stakes.  Protect tender bark of young trees from critters that can gnaw by wrapping stems and trunks with wire or tree-guard products.

Bring in any tropical plants whether potted or planted in your garden.  Check for unwanted guests like mealybugs and mites.  To acclimate plants to the indoors, start by bringing them in at night when temps fall below 50 degrees and increase the amount of time plants spend indoors daily.

Finally, clean and store garden tools so they’ll be in good shape for the spring. Don’t leave tools– including hoses–outdoors to be damaged by cold weather.  Empty hoses and bring them into your garage or shed.  Sand wood-handled tools and rub with oil before storing indoors.  Sharpen tools including hoes, shears, scissors, knives, loppers, pruners, and shovels and lubricate with oil before storing til spring.

To sharpen edges, put a drop of oil–either WD-40 or motor oil–on the blade. Then, with a handheld wet stone, file the blade at a 20-degree angle. A file or a motor-driven sharpener also works well.  Store tools in oiled sand, or hang on pegs.

The cold is coming.  Putting your garden and lawn to bed is about cleaning up then covering up.  Remember, fall is the most important season for both your garden and yard.  For a full, healthy garden and lawn next spring, get started now to protect your beautiful blooms, hardy shrubs and lush green grass.

 

Sources:

 

HGTV

Bob Villa

Martha Stewart Living

Better Homes and Gardens

 

 

A Homeowner’s Guide to Preparing Your Home for Winter

home

By Shannon Roxborough

 

With Rochester’s seasonal chill starting to creep in, giving your home some routine maintenance is a great way to keep large repairs at bay over the cold-weather seasons.  Here’s a multi-step plan for prepping your house before Old Man Winter comes knocking:

Clean the Gutters

When handling leaf clean-up, don’t forget that many falling leaves get trapped in the gutters Gutter debris can clog the channel and spouts, causing overflow when the autumn rain starts. Use a ladder or cleaning tools that match the height of your gutters (or your accessibility). To avoid having to repeat the cleaning after the foliage drops, take time to trim any low-hanging tree branches near the house.

Lengthen Downspout Kick-Outs

If the bottom of your gutter downspouts are too short, fall and early winter rains can cause water to pool near your home’s foundation. That water can then infiltrate the foundation, finding its way into your basement and wicking up into your walls—attracting insects and causing rot or deterioration. Look for telltale signs like damp basement walls, wet spots on the basement floor or cracks in the foundation after a rain or widening cracks in the foundation. Solution: Attach a flexible downspout extender to direct water a minimum of 10 feet from your home’s foundation.

 

Prep Outdoor Furniture

Clean your outdoor furniture and allow it to dry in the sun. If you see any rust, cracking or chips on the surface, spray paint pieces with a high-quality outdoor paint for metal, wood or plastic. Buy a storage tarp at your local hardware or home improvement store to cover any furniture that is stored outside over the winter.

Beef Up Insulation

Additional insulation can significantly cut down on your heating costs.
Additional insulation can significantly cut down on your heating costs.

If the tops of the joists (wood framing that runs across the floor and ceiling of your attic) are visible, you need more insulation.  Add a layer or two of fiberglass batt insulation with a high R-value. If you have existing insulation in place, closed-cell spray foam or blown-in fiberglass or cellulose is the best way to fill any remaining gaps or crevices.

Clean Cooling Appliances

If you have ceiling fans, change their rotation to clockwise to force warm air downward (there is usually a switch on the base to do this), and while you’re up there, dust and wipe down the blades with a damp or tacky cloth. Remove window air-conditioning units, vacuum the coils and filters and store the unit(s) in a cool, dry place, being sure to cover them to keep out dust and bugs.

Check the Furnace

If you haven’t already done so, schedule your annual furnace maintenance call—before it’s time to star using it. Be sure to change air filters and keep an eye out for leaks around the furnace.

 

Flush the Water Heater

Sediment build-up in the hot water tan can keep your heater from operating at optimum levels. Flush the annually to drain out gunk. Before starting, shut off the heater, let the tank cool, then turn off the water supply. Release the water into a floor drain or bucket until it runs clear.

Look at Your Power Supply

Your home’s electrical system is one of the most overlooked potential hazards, check for loose outlet covers and receptacle boxes. Also be on the lookout for scorch marks around and on the ends of plugs and in the breaker box, telltale signs of dangerous arcing. Plug a lamp or blow dryer into GFCI receptacles and push their test and reset buttons to make sure they turn on and off properly. Finally, install new batteries in all the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Call a Pro

If you’re not comfortable tackling any specific maintenance or repair job, get professional help. A qualified home inspector can tell you exactly what’s going on and a competent contractor can address any issues.

 

Other Tasks to Perform:

 

Outdoors

  • Inspect the roof and chimney for cracks and damage.
  • Close or install storm windows.
  • Remove hoses from spigots and drain and store them indoors
  • Test the snow blower and have it professionally serviced (if necessary)

 

Indoors

  • Check windows and doors for weather-tightness and install weather stripping where needed.
  • Set traps or call in an exterminator for any problems with rodents and other critters
  • Dust blind and vacuum upholstery and curtains throughout your home
  • Clean kitchen and bathroom cabinets and throw out expired food, medicine and cosmetics

 

Shannon Roxborough is a widely published freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, newspapers and websites. An avid home improvement enthusiast, he has more than a decade of DIY experience and previously ran a property maintenance business.

 

 

The Top Ten Things That Every New Home Needs

new home

by Donna De Palma

 

If you’ve just purchased a new home, you probably have a checklist of “must haves” to complete prior to moving day.   This top ten list of what every homeowner needs, is a great place to start.

 

1. Window treatments

Cover your windows.  We all want to let the sunshine in, however, window treatments are essential to a comfortable, stylish home.  Choose versatile treatments that allow plenty of natural light in during the day and privacy when the sun goes down. Whether you choose blinds, curtains, Roman shades, shutters or valances, bring color and pattern into your room by selecting window coverings that set the tone for your room’s decor.  When hanging custom shades, choose a fabric that complements or matches your sofa and chairs in a living room or great room.   Luxurious fabrics like linen or silk make a dramatic statement when floor length curtains are your choice.  The extra length lets curtains puddle slightly on the floor.  Valances can add an additional decorative element to a room.  Layer curtains with sheers underneath in a fresh-colored fabric to create more options for light control.  Have fun with your window treatments.  The right window treatment can turn any window into a stunning focal point in a room or the perfect backdrop for fine furnishings.

new home article

2. Create a place to relax  

Every home needs a special spot to unwind; a serene space to retreat to at the end of your day.  Whether it’s a sunroom, man cave or just a cozy corner where you can enjoy a good read, we all need a place to put our feet up and forget the worries of the day.  Place a comfortable chair near a reading lamp. Don’t forget an end table to put your cup of coffee on.  Groupings of furniture should be cozy and functional.

A bathroom that’s designed like a spa is a prefect place to indulge yourself.  Try a soaking tub in a room that features a soft color palette, dimmers and plush fabrics for a fabulous end to a stressful day.  Choose a room in your new home that will be your well-deserved retreat.

 

3. Have a color scheme

Integrate the spaces in your home by selecting a color palette that carries throughout.  Choose a palette of neutral tones in subtly-varied hues to create continuity in an open floor plan.  Or select contrasting colors of the same tone to designate different functions for different spaces.  Colors you can live with that work well with your furnishings are key to a comfortable home that you’ll want to spend lots of time in.

Experiment with accent colors. A little bit of bold color goes a long way if you want to add drama to your color scheme.  Remember colors look differently when next to other colors.  They also appear differently when they are in different light so bring samples of your color choices to your new home before committing to a color palette.

 

4. A place to lay your head  

There is nothing more important in your home than the mattress you sleep on each night.  Your mattress is a great place to splurge on comfort.  Trying out a mattress is essential to a good fit.  Bigger is usually better especially if you’re sharing your mattress with someone you love.  Pillows matter.  And so do sheets, blankets and bed coverings.  Think comfort first, then style.  And don’t forget luxury.  If you want crisp sheets, try Percale.  For a softer feel, Egyptian, pima and supima cottons reign supreme.  Cotton is soft, durable and breathes well.  Thread count matters but highest isn’t always best. Generally, the higher the thread count, the softer the sheet and the more likely it will wear well.  A good choice is a sheet that ranges between a 200 and 800 thread count.

Mix fabrics, textures and pattern to match your style.  When choosing a comforter, coverlet or duvet, touch the fabric to see if it’s something that will be comfortable to lie on.  Pillows come in all shapes and sizes from boudoir to bolster.  Mix them up to add interest.

 

5. Storage. Storage. Storage

There’s one thing none of us can get enough of and that’s storage. Clutter doesn’t improve the style in any room.  Find containers, baskets, shelves and storage units that take clutter out of sight.  Baskets make interesting accessories to hide excess stuff.  Storage units come in many forms.  Be creative.  Stow away personal items in containers that are easy to access.

Whether it’s bright colors and punchy fabrics or pretty weaves and rustic textures, containers can add style to your space.  Just remember one simple rule.  If your storage units are out of sight, make them strictly functional but if they’re on display, they need to integrate well with the overall design of the room.

 

6. A Personal Touch  

Your home should be a reflection of who you are.  Create a collection of your favorite things from your family, your travel, or your childhood.   Display your collection on shelves or a wall dedicated to memorabilia.  Find accessories that showcase your personality.  If you love the ocean, search for themes that reflect your love of the water.  If you have a unique vintage collection, group items in a place where they can enjoy center stage.      

 

7. Remember artwork  

No one wants to live in a furniture showroom.  Artwork adds a personal touch to your home.  Finding artwork you can live with takes time and effort. Hang items on your walls that you will love for years.  Consider subject matter, color palette and style. Your artwork doesn’t have to be pricey, just something you adore.

Rotate artwork on your walls.  A wall of art on a wall going upstairs makes a perfect gallery space.  Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone in small ways with your choices of wall art.

Consider scale.  Artwork shouldn’t disappear on a wall or compete with another center of interest in a room.  Like any accessory, artwork needs to relate to nearby furnishings, wall colors and finishes.

 

8. Bring the green indoors

Even if you don’t have a green thumb, plants bring life into your home.  There are houseplants that need very little care to thrive.  Plants improve the air quality in your new home and they make a house feel like a home.  Vary the height and variety of plants. Try grouping plants near windows. Taller plants such as a Palm or Ficus, Rubber Tree or even a Norfolk Pine in front of a window add drama to your room.  More exotics like Ponytail Palm and Saguaro Cactus are also an option for a sunny corner of your home.

Some low maintenance varieties of house plant with lush green foliage are Philodendron, English Ivy, Arrowhead Vine, Boston Fern and Jade plants.

 

9. Create an outdoor space

Expand the possibilities for outdoor living with a deck, patio, outdoor grill or fireplace —even a full outdoor kitchen.  Discovering the joy of outdoor living adds a new dimension to your new home.

Consult an expert when planning outdoor space.  Consider a location for your patio or deck by deciding what function it’s going to fulfill and at what time of day it will get the most use.

If you plan on using your outdoor space for entertaining, position it near an exterior door that’s close to your kitchen. If it faces west and you plan to entertain in the evening, you’ll need a shade structure like a gazebo, pergola or canopy.

Think function to maximize use of your outdoor space. Planting shade trees nearby will block direct sunlight and extend its use.   If your patio will be adjacent to a pool and serve as a daytime escape, remember, it will heat up, so lighter colored materials are best. Dark colors absorb sunlight and will get too hot. If your stone, tile or cement is too light, it can be blinding and far too reflective for our eyes.  Following a few practical guidelines will make outdoor living a feature of your new home you can’t live without.

 

10. Consider safety for your new home

Fire happens unexpectedly—even in a new home.  Be prepared for kitchen fires with a fire blanket stored conveniently by your stove.  Fire extinguishers are a must in all homes.   Make sure your smoke detectors are functioning effectively and are the best type for your home.  Have an emergency plan in place for family members; a place where your entire family can meet if your home needs to be evacuated.

 

Finally, to make your new home more than just a place to live but a place for you and your family to thrive, be a good neighbor.  These top ten tips can ensure that your new home will be a safe, comfortable place that everyone can enjoy.

 

Sources:

Freshome

The nest

Elle

HGTV

 

8 End-of-Summer Tasks for Homeowners

By Shannon Roxborough

Summer can wreck havoc on your home, both outside and in. Soaring temperatures and high humidity cause surfaces to crack, chip and separate, contribute to dust, dirt and debris build-up, and create a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, mold and mildew.

With the season winding down and fall just around the corner, now is the time for homeowners to get ready for the cooler months and avoid potentially costly fixes down the line.

Here are eight preventative maintenance tasks to keep your home in tip-top shape as summer fades:

Protect the Porch, Deck or Patio

Give outdoor areas a good general cleaning then inspect them for signs of damage or deterioration. Repair holes and cracks in wood with a quality epoxy-based filler. For brick and stone surfaces, use the proper mortar or sealant to keep damage to a minimum. Sand or scrape flaking or chipping paint or stain, then recoat the surface before fall rains arrive to keep moisture at bay.

Repair Outdoor Surfaces

Fill any cracks in your paver, concrete or asphalt driveway, walkways and paths to minimize trip hazards and prevent the coming rain (and eventual snow and ice) from causing more damage. For concrete cracks less than a half-inch wide, run a bead of acrylic latex repair compound into the seam then smooth with a putty knife. For larger cracks, trowel on a vinyl concrete patching compound and let it cure (a full day before foot traffic; three days for vehicles). Repair blacktop with asphalt filler or patch. And remember to always start with a clean, dry surface.

Weatherproof Windows and Doors

Use latex or silicone caulk to seal gaps larger than ⅛ inch around windows and doors to keep the elements out and reduce your seasonal heating bill by up to 15 percent. Use foam weather-stripping on the sides and top of doors, and install a door sweep on the bottom to keep drafts out. For windows, use adhesive-backed closed-cell foam on the bottom of the sash. For looses sashes, install plastic V-channel weather-stripping in the groove the sash fits into, then secure it with finish nails.

Inspect the Gutters, Roof and Attic

end of summer projects home improvement rochester ny

Leaky gutters and overflow due to debris clogs can result in water damage to the foundation and basement or crawlspace walls. So, Take a good look at the gutters and downspouts and repair problem areas with a waterproof sealant. Check your roof for leaks and water damage before the rainy season to keep minor issues from becoming major ones. Address small roof leaks with tri-polymer elastomeric sealant in a caulk tube. From inside, inspect the attic on a bright, sunny day or during a steady rain to look for rays of light or water infiltration.

Check Your Appliances

Thoroughly clean your stove and oven, being sure to use a degreaser to remove any build-up from the range hood or vent fan. Vacuum behind and underneath the fridge to remove dust, dirt and pet hair from the coils, which can interfere with performance. Check the washer to make sure that it is level and plumb, and clean the dryer vent of accumulated lint with a long-handled brush.

Tend to the Air Filter

Summer humidity causes moisture that spawns bacteria, mold and mildew on dusty air filters. Wash your reusable HVAC filter and leave it to air dry in the sun. For disposable furnace filters, buy a replacement at your local home improvement or hardware store (be sure to write down the size printed on it) or order an upgrade—a hypo-allergenic, mildew resistant filter—online.

Give Bathrooms the Once Over

Pathogens tend to build up faster in bathrooms during the humid summer months. Use a strong soap scum remover on your sink, tub, tile and shower surfaces. Spray any mold or mildew with a bleach-based killer (or 10 percent bleach solution—1¼ cup of household bleach per gallon of water). Allow cleaned grout to dry completely then repair any cracks with new grout or reseal with silicone caulk.

Clean the Kitchen Sink, Garbage Disposal and Dishwasher

Pour garbage disposal cleaner down the drain to remove small clogs and disinfect the line. Tackle any food stains or rust in the sink with bleach or a calcium, lime and rust remover. Take out the dishwasher filter and soak it in warm, soapy water for 15 minutes. After replacing it, add two cups of distilled white vinegar to the bottom of the dishwasher and run it empty for one heavy cleaning cycle.

Shannon Roxborough is a widely published freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, newspapers and websites. An avid home improvement enthusiast, he has more than a decade of DIY experience and previously ran a property maintenance business.