A step-by-step guide for home and garden winter prep

Illustrations by Ryan Huddle/Globe Staff

The Farmers’ Almanac is predicting an “ice cold & snow-filled winter” in the Northeast, so let’s button down, bundle up, and brace ourselves and our homes before the flakes fly. Winter storms in the United States caused an estimated $3.5 billion in insured losses in 2015, up from $2.6 billion in 2014, the Insurance Information Institute has reported, so we’ve compiled a to-do list to help you prepare and persevere.

■   Check for loose shingles, damage from branches, and leaks around vents, skylights, and chimneys. Clean off leaves and debris.

■  Carefully inspect flashing at dormers, plumbing stacks, and valleys.

■  Have a flat roof? Look for blisters and bubbles.

■  Trim bushes (to at least 1 foot away from the house) and trees back from roof edges.


■  Examine your eaves, checking the soffit and fascia boards for loose and rotten spots as well as squirrel
damage. Paint failure is a sign of early trouble.

■  Replace the batteries in your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. Test them. Vacuum out the dust, and
replace your devices if they are old.

■  Have a heating, air conditioning, and ventilation
company give your furnace an annual checkup and
replace filters.

■  Check wooden deck or porch elements for rot and insect infestation. Paint or stain as needed.

■  Replace door weather seals as needed.

■  Repair locks so windows and doors seal tightly. If you have storm windows, lower them.

■  Check the landscape grading adjacent to your home to ensure it has a slope of 1 inch per foot for the first 6 feet away from the house.

■  Clean drain basins of debris.

■  Look for cracks, holes, and chips in your siding or paint. Replace caulk if necessary.

■  Check window and door flashing.

■  Shut off outside water, disconnect hoses, and have your
irrigation system serviced for winter.

■  Plant spring-blooming bulbs.

■  Plant deciduous trees and shrubs through November but wait until spring to plant evergreens.

■  Don’t bag fallen leaves. Rake them into 3-foot piles. In 15 months they will have broken down into nutritious weed-free mulch for your trees or garden.


■  Disguised weeds are easier to spot as their leaves change color. Focus on pulling out Asian invasives that have been hiding in plain sight such as multiflora rose, burning bush, buckthorn, barberry, and any honeysuckle bush that is more than 5 feet tall. If they are too big to pull, cut the trunk and immediately paint the fresh slash or stump with Round-Up.

■  Don’t weed invasive vines such as bittersweet and
porcelainberry. Instead, clip off the end and dip the new tip still anchored to the roots in a bottle of Round-Up.

■  Move fish and aquatic plants into an indoor tank unless your garden pond is 18 inches or more deep.

■  After the foliage blackens, dig up tender bulbs such as
gladiola, dahlia, and canna with a garden fork to spend
the winter in the basement.

 Water evergreens regularly as long as your hoses
are out to forestall dehydration over the winter. Or
spray with Wilt Pruf antidesicant. (Obey your
community’s water restrictions.)

■  Clear gutters and drain pipes and make sure they usher water away from the house.

■  Inspect for water stains on the underside of the roof sheathing. Also look for rot, mildew, and fungus, which would indicate high humidity levels in the attic.

■  Check to make sure the insulation is not wet or missing.

■  Make sure the attic vents are open and unobstructed. If you don’t have soffit or ridge vents, keep your gable vents open year-round to ensure proper ventilation. Look for
vermin, bird nests, and insect infestations.

■  Remove the ashes from the fireplace firebox, but have your chimney professionally cleaned and checked before the winter-heating season starts.


■  Lubricate your snowblower, change the oil and the spark plug, put in fresh gas, fill the tires, and keep extra sheer pins on hand.

■  Run all gas-powered lawn equipment until the fuel is gone and store them in a dry place. When your mower’s tank is empty, carefully remove clippings from the
underside. Clean or replace the air filter.

■  Remove combustibles that are near any heat sources.

■  Set your ceiling fans to run clockwise.

■  This is the most comfortable time of year to do backyard projects that require heavy labor. Do your cutting and hauling now, but don’t cut wet wood with a chainsaw.

■  Dig and prepare new vegetable and flower beds for planting next spring.

■  If you have deer, spray the bottom 6 feet of evergreens with a repellent.

■  Cut down the garden, except for shrubs. Bag the top growth of annuals and vegetable plants and disease-prone perennials such as phlox and peonies. Add the rest to your compost pile.

■  Clean and store garden furniture, stakes, and tomato cages. Disinfect with a 1 percent solution of chlorine-free bleach.

■  Check for leaky fixtures in the kitchen and bathrooms. Replace washers or cartridges if necessary.

■  Inspect caulking around sinks, bathtubs, and showers.

■  Make sure the door seals on your refrigerator are
airtight. Test them by closing the door over a dollar bill. If you can pull the bill out easily, the latch may need to be adjusted or the seal may need to be replaced. Clean the coils (at least twice a year if you have pets).


■  Check and clean the dryer vent, air conditioner, stove hood, and bathroom fans. Inspect exterior hoods for
insect infestations and bird nests. (Make sure the vent is free from snow during and after major storms.)

■  Protect your home from frozen pipes by sealing air leaks and insulating rim joists with a foam panel.

■  Locate and mark the shut-offs for the heating, electrical, and plumbing systems.

■  Check the electrical panel for rust or water marks. All breakers should be turned off and on to ensure none have seized. Is the panel warm to the touch or does it smell like burned insulation? Call an electrician. All circuits should be labeled.

■  Test all ground fault-circuit interrupters monthly and have a licensed electrician review the whole system every 10 years.

■  Clean vents and radiators of debris. Vacuum radiator fins.

■  Test your generator monthly. Keep the tank full and the fuel fresh with a stabilizer. (Make sure you always operate your generator outside at least 5 feet away from the house and facing away from doors, windows, and vents.)

■  Prune diseased rose canes and long shoots that could whip in the wind.

■  Buy an outdoor water-heating unit to keep your birdbath from freezing.

■  Heavily mulch root crops such as parsnips to harvest throughout the winter.

■  Dump exhausted soil from pots in the compost pile to get renewed by micro-organisms there.

■  Renew mulch around trees and gardens and in beds to a depth of 4 inches. Avoid direct contact with plants.


■  Apply 25 pounds of calcite lime per 1,000 square feet of garden or lawn and let it settle over the winter.

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