Autumn provides the mild weather East End homeowners need to maintain and winterize our castles (and “moats” and courts). A little work now can save big hassles in the springtime. Here are some quick tips, preparations and fall cleanup projects for you to keep your home and landscape looking fresh into the new year.
Children’s Play Equipment
If your kids have outgrown their play equipment, don’t wait, have it removed. Unused play equipment invites abuse and accidents and it doesn’t age well. If the set is a “keeper,” give it a good, thorough cleaning before and after the winter months. Perhaps some sanding and painting is in order? Now’s a great time for that. Teach children to always clear debris such as sticks and leaves off of equipment before using it.
Sheds and Garages
Clean them out. Deep down, you know you want to. Make an appointment with your whole family by blocking out some time and go for it. Call a charity to schedule a pick-up right at the time you plan to be done sorting stuff out as a group. Separate out what to keep, what to donate to charity and what to discard—and do it all that same day. You’ll breathe easier when there’s room for items intended for these outbuildings inside of them. Remember parking your car in the garage? It’s just a weekend afternoon and a phone call away.
These hubs of summer fun can be a real pain to maintain. Many Hamptonites employ a pool cleaning maintenance service for just that reason. If you’re more of a do-it-youself-er, begin winterizing your pool by cleaning the equipment and cover. The name of the game is destroying as much bacteria as you can before shutting everything down. Adding phosphate remover, shocking and chlorinating, and balancing pH levels of the water are great ways to do this. Pumping, filtering, heating and chlorinating equipment should be drained and lubricated as required. It is also advised to lower the water level of the pool before the temperature drops: water expands when it freezes, and can potentially damage equipment. As always, remove leaves, and be sure water and filters are free of debris before covering with a tight-fitting cover!
Cool autumn temperatures limit aboveground growth, meaning that roots gain priority. The best action you can take to care for your lawn is to aerate the soil. This allows moisture to reach the roots, strengthening them and improving the overall health of your lawn. A high phosphorus fertilizer will also encourage root growth.
It might be tempting to retire the lawnmower, but keeping the grass short is important for maintaining its health through the winter. And yes, you should continue to water your lawn, as well. For the final cuttings of the year, you’ll want mower blades at their lowest setting. This will allow the most sunlight to hit the blades of grass, which is doing its best to absorb as much energy as possible before the Big Chill. (A side benefit of your über-short grass is that leaves will have less to cling to—thus the wind becomes nature’s leaf blower.)
What about the fall leaves? The debate rages between rakers and non-rakers. Some keep their lawns pristine, tossing bags to the curb every chance they get. Others embrace the season’s disheveled nature, letting the leaves lie for as long as possible. The disadvantage of the latter method is potentially endangering your lawn with first snowfall, when compacted leaves will damage the turf.
There are other benefits, of course: Dan’s Papers garden columnist Jeanelle Myers says, “I ask the mowers to leave any fallen leaves in the garden beds…Food for soil flora and fauna is available from plant debris.” You can easily mulch your leaves, collect them in your compost pile, and spread a thin layer of leaf and grass clippings in your flowerbeds.
Autumn garden grooming is a matter of personal preference. Some people keep their flower beds clean, the soil exposed, and the plants trimmed back for winter. Manicured gardens are beautiful, but they do require extra attention. If you decide to keep your gardens spotless, ask your landscaper what nutrient options would best benefit your plants. No garden, no matter how well trimmed, can thrive if your plants are starving.
Other gardens embrace a wilder look in autumn in order to take advantage of the natural nutrients of leaf litter. Myers says that the organic materials, in addition to feeding your plants, will keep the soil warm longer into winter. This is good news for the resident insect population, which, in return for warm winter housing, will help maintain a natural balance for your plants. A thin layer of leaves and mulch is ideal. Cut away dead branches and stems, especially on perennials, but feel free to let your plants get a little disheveled.
Fall is the time for local root vegetables. If you’re a home gardener, you can keep carrots, garlic, horseradish, leeks, parsnips, radishes, turnips and potatoes in the ground through the early winter. If you expect snow, mark the rows so you can find them and use mulch to prevent the ground from freezing completely.
Aboveground plants need a good fall pruning. The fewer branches they have, the less energy they’ll expend. Gardening books provide detailed instructions for how to cut back a variety of plants, such as raspberries. For the flower beds, it’s mulch and more mulch. Cover those babies with three inches or more of the stuff. This will keep them nice and cozy throughout the cold months. Potted plants are either brought inside, or dumped out (if they’re annuals), in which case clean the pots and store them upside down. For rust-free garden tools, rub them with vegetable oil.
Some hard-core grillers grill all winter, but for the rest of you, it’s time to clean and store your beloved grill for the winter. Grills are fairly low-maintenance when it comes winterizing, though gas grills are a bit more involved than charcoal, so sit back and read your owner’s manual. One method of cleaning a gas grill is to use a bottlebrush to clean the interior of the hollow burner tubes. If you feel your grill requires more cleaning, scrub with hot soapy water, and rinse. Store your grill inside if you can—but never the propane tank, which should always remain outside in a well-ventilated area. For charcoal grills, empty the ashes, clean off the grate and coat with vegetable oil, throw on a cover and you’re set!
Decks, Patios and Patio Furniture
Patio furniture should be cleaned before it is stored away. If it can’t be stored inside, place it beneath an overhang or cover it with tarps. This will substantially extend the life of your patio furniture, especially those pieces that are made of wood.
If you are the proud owner of a wood deck, then you know that moisture is the enemy. And snow is moisture. Ergo, you don’t want snow covering your unprotected deck. Have your (freshly cleaned) deck coated with a waterproof sealant.
All decks and patios should be swept clean of debris. Leaves, acorns and other detritus can get stuck between deck boards and cause rot. Wood decks should be washed down with deck soap. Concrete patios should swept and washed, and then sealed to avoid winter cracks. Brick patios should have any heavy objects removed, and joint sand replenished between bricks. Stone patios should be weeded and pressure-washed. If you’re concerned about the color fading from your stones, consider staining or sealing them. Vinyl decks are easy: just use a hose to spray them down. Clean patio chair and lounge cushions with soap and water and put covers over all outdoor furniture.
If you’ve been using your fireplace and, in fact, even if you haven’t been using it—your chimney needs to be cleaned out. Unused chimneys can attract critters including birds, squirrels and raccoons. Regular use can lead to sooty build-up. We could offer suggestions on safety measures you can take and best practices, but here’s the best tip: Hire a pro.
Although greenhouses will protect your plants from wind and cold, they can be little help in winter if your glass is dirty. The calcium carbonate you may have applied in the summer must now be removed, or your plants will be starved for light. Even without calcium carbonate, if the glass is dirty, your plants won’t get the light they need. Soapy water works well here, although it does take a bit of time. Adding a little bleach to water works wonders for killing off mold and moss. Sweep and disinfect your greenhouse floor while your plants are outside. Replace any broken panes, and remove debris from crevices.
Siding, Roofs and Gutters
Bill Smith of Mildew Busters, based on Shelter Island, says now is the best time to remove any mold and mildew from your home’s exterior. “Removing it now eliminates it [becoming] worse in the spring and eliminates the possibility of rot setting in,” he says. Because the moisture from rain and snow “feeds” mold and mildew, it should be removed before given a chance to “winter over.”
And fall is the prime season to clean gutters—think about all those falling leaves clogging them up. We like to say “Get the gunk out.” With the rain and snow of winter just around the corner, you definitely want water to have an unobstructed flow. Letting debris sit on roof seams and gutters is a surefire way to accumulate moisture. When this moisture freezes, it’ll cause, among other things, a massive headache. Install screens on top of your gutters to prevent clogs, and replace roof panels if you see any are missing or damaged. This is a job for a professional wearing gloves, as the debris that accumulates in gutters can decompose over time and become a bit, er, nasty and it involves a ladder. A hose can also bee a great tool for completing this task. Just point and shoot! And don’t forget the downspouts, which can also be cleaned with the power of pressurized water.