Although your outdoor landscape and gardens have long been put to rest for the winter, there are still a few outdoor tasks to complete that will maximize your farmstead’s safety and efficiency. They can also save save you a few headaches and some money in the process. Many winter chores, such as trimming back potentially hazardous limbs and clearing pathways, are par for the course, but here are four other tasks to improve your winter landscape.
1. Remove Ice Dams
Walk the perimeter of your home, surveying the roof for ice dams: mounds of ice that form at the edge of a roof when the roof gets warm enough to melt the bottom layer of snow, causing water to flow between the roof and snow down to the eaves where it refreezes and forms a mound of ice. An ice dam can damage your roof, gutters, downspouts and even the inside of your home.
Gutters near the eaves where cool air collects can trap snow and ice, providing the base for an ice dam. In some instances, an ice dam at the gutter can get large enough to pool melted water and force it up and under shingles. Once it’s under the shingles, water will eventually drip into insulation, puddling on ceilings and dripping down exterior walls beneath the eave, ruining sheetrock and paint. If the ice dam breaks free, shingles and gutters could come off with it, not to mention that it can damage anything in its path, including shrubs, windowsills, cars, pets and people. Plus, consistently wet roof sheathing can start to mildew and eventually rot.
In the event of an ice dam, call a roofing professional for removal. They’ll remove the ice dam by breaking it free in small chunks with a small blunt tool that won’t damage your roofing. Be sure to check that the fee includes clearing gutters and downspouts, too.
If you’d rather do it yourself, you can melt passages through the ice dam with calcium chloride ice melter—not rock salt, which can damage paint, metal finishes and nearby plants—to release the trapped water. Fill a tube-shaped piece of cloth (e.g., a pair of pantyhose or a thin sock) with calcium chloride, tie off the top and lay it vertically across the ice dam to slowly melt a path for the underlying water to drain.
2. Seal Up Rodent Entrances
Take another turn around your house’s perimeter to check the foundation and eaves for small cracks or openings that mice or other pests can use to access your house. Seal up any potential openings and, if possible, check the crawl space or basement for any signs of intrusion. Corners are preferred entrance points for mice and rats because they can use the two walls as leverage. Seal any entrance holes with steel wool, and consider covering corners with fine hardware mesh to prevent future digging and chewing.
3. Clear Snow Accumulation
When the snow flies, clear accumulation from gas meters, basement windows and dryer exhaust vents. This will not only keep your equipment working properly but also prevent potentially hazardous situations, including fire and water damage.
Snow or ice accumulation can restrict access to your gas meter in an emergency and damage your gas meter and external pipes, leading to inaccurate meter readings, as well as interrupting gas flow, causing heat loss. Cautiously remove snow and ice with a broom or by hand, as tools could potentially damage the pipes, creating a safety hazard. Avoid hitting, kicking or using sharp objects or a snow blower to remove snow or ice from your gas meter or piping.
Consider building a cover over the meter set to protect it from falling ice and snow—particularly near roof lines where large chunks can damage the equipment. That said, do not fully enclose the meter or restrict access to the equipment. Partial cover can also help prevent dripping water from leaky or clogged eaves and downspouts, which could freeze on your gas meter or vents, and if the vents are clogged under a layer of snow, the gas flow might be interrupted.
4. Mulch And Dust Your Perennials
Although most of your plants are snoozing through the frigid temps, it’s a good idea to check your perennials. An “open winter,” where the soil is alternately warmed and frozen, can easily damage strawberries, garlic, overwintered spinach and many perennial flowers. Although it’s too late to undo the current damage, mulching can prevent additional harm caused by fluctuating soil temperatures, particularly in spring.
While you’re at it, walk around the garden to inspect ice and snow damage to shrubs, evergreens and trees. Accumulations of heavy, wet snow can break small trees and shrubs. To remove it, gently shake the branches or carefully brush off with a broom.
5. Protect Trees And Shrubs Against Winter Foragers
Mice, rabbits and deer are just a few of the herbivores that might turn to your landscaping for a mid- to late-winter snack, particularly when food resources are scarce and buried in snow and ice. These critters will feed on trees and shrubs during winter, severely damaging or killing the plants. Mice and rabbits tend to girdle the trunks of small trees, effectively destroying them. Deer prefer to devour the foliage on the lower branches of arborvitae, pines and other evergreens.
Periodically inspect trees and shrubs throughout winter for browsing damage. If you find chew marks on bark, nibbled foliage or other signs of unwanted diners, install hardware cloth around stems and trunks to protect against further damage.
6. Prune Trees And Shrubs
Winter is also a great time to prune trees and shrubs, particularly those damaged by snow and ice. In addition to getting your plants in shape for the growing season, pruning in winter can greatly reduce the risk of infections across the board, especially in the case of oak trees and oak wilt infection.
You can wait until late winter or early spring, depending on your area’s climate, to prune fruit trees, shade trees, grapevines, raspberries and deciduous shrubs. Just be sure it’s completed before the plants begin to leaf out.