From the October/November 2010 Issue:

Ready or Not, Winter Is Coming

  • Writer: Mary Vinnedge
  • Photographer: ILLUSTRATOR: Mike Scott
  • Writer: Mary Vinnedge | Illustrator: Mike Scott |

Follow this fall checklist to prepare plants, plumbing, and furnishings


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enlarge | Tips you can use: 1. Drain garden hoses and insulate outdoor faucets. 2. Mulch bulbs and perennials unless you lift them to overwinter indoors. 3. Stain and seal your wood deck and fence if needed. 4. Leave heaters outdoors but bring in porch umbrellas. 5. Bring terra-cotta pots indoors. 6. Cover furniture or move it indoors unless you want it to acquire a weathered look. Bring upholstered furniture and genuine wicker indoors. 7. Add a heater to keep birdbath water from freezing. 8. Winterize your pool and irrigation system, including sprinkler heads. 9. Apply an antidesiccant to shrub foliage to seal in moisture. 10. Drain fountains and cover or invert the basin. 11. Keep bird feeders filled. 12. Repair outdoor lighting and replace burned-out bulbs.
Autumn is no time to fall down on yard work. “The weather gets dreary and people say, ‘I’ll deal with it in spring,’” says Mitchell Knapp of Scenic Landscaping in Haskell. Instead of procrastinating, follow a fall checklist so your garden greets spring with healthy plants, functional plumbing, and unscathed furnishings.

“The worst winter threat is windburn,” says Doug Collinson of Collinson Bros. Landscaping/Premier Pools by Collinson in Wharton. It’s preventable if you adequately hydrate plants before winter. “A 2-to-3-inch layer of bark mulch in bed areas of trees, shrubs, and perennials can fend off dryness.”

Collinson and Knapp also recommend applying an antidesiccant such as Wilt-Pruf to shrub foliage to seal in moisture in late fall, a particularly beneficial measure for recently planted shrubs.

Turf needs a different tack. Remove fallen leaves, which can smother grass and encourage disease. “Fall is a good time to restore impoverished turf,” Knapp adds. If your grass is diseased, treat it. New Jersey soil is often too acidic (a soil test can verify), so apply lime in fall to adjust the pH balance if needed, he says.

Collinson recommends the year’s last application of lawn fertilizer after at least two hard freezes. Overseeding turf works better in late November than spring. “When forsythia blooms in spring, you apply pre-emergents [to prevent germination of weed seeds],” Knapp says. “Pre-emergents would prevent spring-planted grass seeds from sprouting. But if you plant grass seeds in fall, they’ll be fine.”


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enlarge | Because deer snub fall-planted muscari (grape hyacinths), you will enjoy the fragrant blossoms and beautiful landscape color for years.
Bulbs & Perennials
Before the first hard freeze, you may wish to lift tender bulbs for reuse. Knapp saves cannas, which are expensive. Cheaper caladiums and dahlias also can be lifted in fall and replanted in midspring. Cut away the bulbs’ foliage and stems, remove most of the soil, and store them in a cool, dry place.

Up until the ground freezes hard, generally in late December, Knapp plants spring-blooming muscari (grape hyacinths), alliums, and narcissuses, which deer bypass so they will bloom for years.

After the first hard freeze, Collinson divides perennials and cuts them back, which “lets the plant energies go into the roots. It also keeps leaves from being trapped [in perennial stalks] so the landscape looks nicer,” he says.


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enlarge | If you plant narcissus bulbs in autumn, they’ll reward you with blossoms for decades. And don’t fret about deer: Narcissuses aren’t on their menus.
Plumbing Preventives
By mid-October, winterize your pool and irrigation system. Blow out water lines to prevent freezing and cracking. “The irrigation system is the most crucial. If neglected, damage can occur underground. It can be difficult to locate and fix,” Collinson says. “An ounce of prevention is well-worth a pound of cure.” Pool equipment should also be serviced to prevent damage.

Some water features—deep ponds, for instance—are designed for year-round operation, with pumps running 24-7, Knapp and Collinson say. With other ponds, turn off and disconnect pumps and move them indoors. “Store the pump submerged to keep the seals moist,” Collinson says. “If they’re wet and dried repeatedly, they’re more likely to fail.”

A pond-heating coil will thaw a 6-inch-diameter hole in ice, Knapp says. The hole allows oxygen and light to enter and fish to feed. Remove the coil next spring.

Drain fountains, says Sarah Conine of Garden Cottage in Morristown and Fairfield. Invert the fountains or cover their basins so they don’t collect water that will freeze and crack the vessels.

Bring in drained garden hoses and then insulate outdoor faucets to prevent freeze damage.

Conine says teak furniture can stay outside uncovered, allowing the wood to turn silver. Resin-lumber furniture may remain out also. Molded resin furniture can too, she says, though white shows a lot of dirt and is hard to clean (use a power washer).

Wicker-look resin furniture and aluminum pieces without slings or stretched fabric can stay outdoors, but Conine suggests using a breathable cover that sheds rain, keeping the furniture clean without trapping moisture underneath. You must bring genuine indoors.

Stow painted wood furniture out of the elements to prolong its finish, she says; stained and sealed wood holds up better. Cover stained-hardwood and stainless-steel furnishings to keep them clean.

Though newer iron and steel furniture has rugged coatings, covering it will enhance durability.

Bring in upholstered garden furniture if possible, Conine says. A cover will help protect the cushions “but rodents could still get in, so it’s better to bring them in. The weight of snow compresses them.”

Other furnishings tips: Bring in rugs; if possible, bring in umbrellas to protect working parts; leave patio heaters outdoors. Chimeneas/fire pits can stay out if they won’t hold water.

More Tips for Your Fall To-Do List
• Mitchell Knapp of Scenic Landscaping suggests starting a compost heap with dead annual and vegetable plants, raked leaves, and waste pruned from perennials.
• Check your landscape lighting; make repairs and replace burned-out bulbs.
• Some wood fences and decks may benefit from staining and sealing.
• Many flowerpots (fiberglass and iron, for instance) can stay outdoors year-round. Ceramic and concrete benefit from being emptied and turned upside down; bring in terra-cotta pots.
• For the birds: Add a heater to your birdbath so the water remains liquid for drinking; fill feeders. The winter landscape has little food for birds, Knapp says, “so you’ll have a wonderful time watching them at your feeders.”