Preparing Summer Tools and Gear for Winter

It’ll soon be time to put away your summer tools and fun-time accessories for winter and they do need a little cleaning and care before putting away.

Garden Hoses and Outdoor Faucets – Remove hoses from faucets and drain completely.  Roll up the hose carefully and secure with tape or rope.  Hoses winter over best if hung, but don’t just hand them on a nail.  Cut the ends off a can and place the can on a nail or hook in the garage or shed, then hand the coiled hose over the can.  This prevents holes punched by the nail.  Finally, cover outdoor faucets with a fiberglass cone made for this purpose.

Pruners, Lopers, and Snips – All those wonderful hand tools that helped you maintain the garden will perform better next year if properly cleaned before storing.  Clean the metal parts thoroughly.  If you have some rust showing up, you can use steel wool along with white vinegar, baking soda, or Coca-Cola to remove the rust.  Oil springs with WD-40. When they are completely dry, store neatly off the floor.

Gas Powered Equipment – Lawn mowers, trimmers, and other gas powered equipment should be emptied of fuel before storing.  Leaving it over the winter can damage the gas tank. Sharpen and oil blades, replace strings, remove any rust, and store in a dry garage or shed.

Tents, Canopies, and Camping Gear – Make sure all tents are completely dry before storing over winter. Inspect them for rips or tears, and fold them up and place in their bags.  Keep in a dry area.  Check camping gear for wear and clean as needed.  For small items, place in plastic bins and label the bins for convenient identification when you need them again.

Improving Garden Soil in Fall

As plants mature, they use up a lot of nutrients from the soil, so putting back some of those nutrients for the next crop is one way to ensure successful gardening every year.  Fall is the best time to add amendments so they have a chance to be broken down by microbes over the winter.

Knowing What to Add

When garden beds are cleared away or perennials go to sleep, take a quart plastic bag, scoop a trowel of soil from five or six areas in your gardens, seal it up and take to your extension office for a soil test.  Or you can find a lab online that does these tests.  The soil test will let you know what you need to add to your garden specifically.


Most plants will thrive in a soil pH close to neutral which is 7 on a 1-14 scale.  So anywhere from 6-8 pH works for many plants.  Some, like rhododendron, azalea, and hydrangea prefer more acid soil. Others do better in alkaline soil.  If your soil is too alkaline, you can add pine needles, peat moss, or elemental sulfur.  If your soil is too acidic, add lime to raise the pH level.

Adding Compost

Whether using your own compost or bagged compost, adding a 3 or 4 inch layer in the vegetable garden and around your ornamental plants will stimulate microbes and other beneficial organisms to refresh tired end-of-season soil over the winter.  You’ll also want to add some compost and a little fertilizer to the holes where you are planting fall bulbs, new shrubs, trees or other landscape plants.

Raw Organic Matter

In addition to adding compost to your vegetable garden, you may want to also add some raw organic matter like grass clippings and shredded leaves plus some manure for added nitrogen.  Cow, horse, sheep, and chicken manure will work.  It can be added fresh in the fall because the ammonia has time to dissipate over the winter.  Beneficial soil organisms will help decompose this material.


Some of the best nutrient amendments for fall application are kelp meal, greensand, rock phosphate, and bone meal.  You can mix these organic materials right into your garden or side dress around plants.  One way to accomplish adding all of the compost, raw material, and nutrients is to mix everything in a wheelbarrow and apply it all together.

This is the last gardening article this year unless you leave a comment below asking for other topics.  Here’s to successful gardens next year.

Prepare Your Home For Winter

Before snow flies, you may want to winterize your home to lower heating costs and keep the cold out.

Give Your Heating System A Tune Up

Your heating system works more efficiently if it is clean, lubricated and properly adjusted.  Once in the fall and once in the spring will keep it working at top capacity.  Regular fiberglass filters should be changed monthly.  If you want to trap more bacteria, mold, viruses and pollen, consider electrostatic or HEPA filters which only need to be changed twice a year.

Check Windows and Doors for Air

On a windy day, walk around your home and check all the windows and door for air flow.  Install weather stripping to stop any leaks you feel and either buy or make a “snake” (a tube of fabric filled with sand or kitty litter) to place at the bottom of any doors that are letting in air.

Reverse the Fan

 If you have an overhead fan that has a reverse switch, turn it on so air is projected down toward the floor.  This will help keep the warm air that rises to the ceiling down at floor level and can save as much as 10 percent in heating costs.

Winterize Windows

If you don’t have efficient storm windows, or drafts are a serious problem, you can add a layer of protection with caulking and a window insulation kit.  Remove old caulking and any peeling paint from the outside, then apply new caulk.  The insulation kit seals the entire window behind a large sheet of shrink-wrap plastic which is mostly invisible.  The plastic adheres to the interior window casing with double-sided tape;.  A blow dryer then seals the plastic into place.

Lower the Thermostat

Lower your thermostat at night and when you will be gone all day to save money on heating bills.  A programmable thermostat will do this for you, or you can just make lowering the thermostat a part of your before leaving and before bed rituals.  For every degree you lower the thermostat during heating season, you’ll save between 1 and 3 percent of your heating bill.

Which Kind of Leaf Blower Works Best for You?

As the leaves start falling, we’re all looking for easy ways to deal with them.  Some people rake them up into paper bags and let the city deal with them.  Some people burn them. Others shred them and put them in the compost pile.  Whichever one is your favorite method, a leaf blower can come in handy.  Blowers can also be used to clean up soil and dirt from hard surfaces, dusting off garage floors, cleaning porches, patios and decks.

Gas Powered Leaf Blowers

If you prefer to mix the gas and oil and pull a cord to get your leaf blower started this one is for you.  The gas-powered handheld or backpack blowers are convenient and powerful.  They are also noisier than other types (hearing protection required) and heavier to carry around, but they can go anywhere.  The backpack variety alleviates the problem of weight.

Electric Leaf Blowers

Electric leaf blowers can be powered by a cord or a battery.  They both have advantages and disadvantages.  The corded blower has limited reach and you may need multiple extension cords to reach your entire property.  They also have less power than the gas varieties.  Electric blowers are quieter and usually weigh less than 10 pounds, making them easy to carry.  The disadvantages of the battery powered versions are that you may not have very much time on a battery and will need backup batteries to keep working for longer periods of time.

Blower and Vacuum Combination Blowers

These combination blowers perform multiple functions including blowing leaves and debris, vacuuming leaves and shredding leaves.  One drawback to vacuums is that they may not pick up large leaves very efficiently.  Large maple or oak leaves, for example, may just get stuck on the intake tube and have to be moved in by hand.  They work well for shredding leaves once they get inside.  This type tool may have a bag attached that will catch the leaves or a hose and cover that will move leaves into a garbage can.  It also eliminates the need to have a separate blower and shredder. The vacuum works very well around shrubs and flowers and to clean out gutters also.


Fall Lawn Care

Keep Mowing. 

Your lawn may start to grow again in the cooler temperatures of fall, so continue mowing as needed until freezing temperatures arrive.  If you bag the grass clippings, they are invaluable for adding nitrogen to compost piles. You can also leave some on the grass to decompose and add nutrients to the lawn.

Leaves to Deal With

You can leave whole leaves in flower beds, but on lawns, they will compact and keep moisture from getting to the grass.  It’s best to shred the leaves into smaller pieces and then use on planting areas as mulch for winter protection of plants.  Th leaf mulch also keeps grass and weed seeds floating through the air and dropped by birds from taking root where you don’t want them.


Fall is a great time to overseed an existing lawn, start a new one, or fill in bare patches.  Give it at least a month before freeze so it can get established.  Over time, lawns thin down or just get old and need to be replaced.  Select the seed appropriate for your area and cut the lawn short and bag the cuttings so the seed can reach the soil underneath.  Fill your spreader, adjust the settings according to your type of seed, and apply.

Fertilize the Lawn

Fall is the most important time to fertilize your lawn.  Some manufacturers recommend feeding the lawn four times a year.  Water the lawn well a few days before you spread fertilizer. Fill spreader with fertilizer and apply.  Feeding your lawn helps it stay green and grow thick.  A thick lawn prevents weed seeds from sprouting and moving in.


If you want rich, nutrient dense soil for your spring and fall gardens, consider composting.  It’s easy to build a compost bin and add layers of leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen scraps all through the year.  In fall, the leaves provide the brown material, grass clippings and kitchen scraps the green.  Saved grass clippings that have turned brown are still considered green material for the compost pile (containing nitrogen).  This combination of ingredients plus air and water will keep the pile hot enough to break everything down into a nice, nutrient dense compost.

Storing Garden Tools

If you’re like me, your garden tools are either stacked in a messy corner or laying around waiting to be stepped on.  I ran across these great, easy to build storage ideas and wanted to share them with you. They’re really simple and inexpensive and will get those tools organized.

From left to right in the picture above:

Cut slanted slots in four 2x4s and attach them to the wall.  You’ll need as many slots as you have tools to store.  This method makes the tools easy to remove from the rack and easy to see. So that you put everything back where it started, put a label on each section to identify the tool that belongs there.

Next across the top, use a six or eight-inch wide board and cut grooves large enough to all you to slide the largest handle into the groove.  The shelf can be supported with another board, or brackets.

On the right, this idea uses four 2x4s, some 3-in PVC pipe, a saw, some construction glue, and nails or screws.  Build a base with two boards, then move up about four inches and attach another board for the bottom PVC pipes to attach to.  The fourth board goes at the upper level.  PVC pipes are cut on an angle to allow easy removal.

Bottom left has used a plywood backing and attached the PVC pipe holders directly to the plywood.  This method could also be used if your garage is finished with sheet rock.  The PVC pipes can be labeled to identify the tools that hang there.

The bottom center picture shows 2x4s cut to length and attached to one side of the studs.  Tools then sit in the spaces between those 2x4s.

Whether you use vertical or horizontal storage racks, these ideas save space and eliminate the bundle of tangled handles and bases that you may have when tools are bunched together.




Plant Bulbs Now for Spring Blooms

I’ve always breathed a sigh of relief when the daffodils start coming up because I know that spring is right around the corner.  Fall is the best time to plant spring blooming bulbs.  They need the winter cold to get ready to bloom.  Bulbs get their energy from the foliage, so don’t cut it back after they bloom until it turns brown and dries out.


Crocus is a bulb planted in the fall that blooms in early spring often before any other bulbs. They grow only 4-6 inches tall and have small cup shaped blooms in yellows, pinks, blues, and white and show best when planted in mass.  They will naturalize and create a large showing in future years.  They like well drained soil and are planted 3-4” deep.


Hyacinths come in various sizes, colors, and flower formations.  They bloom in early to mid-spring around the same time as daffodils.  Flowers will open about 3 weeks after leaves start to emerge.  Hyacinth bulbs can be forced indoors for enjoyment during the late winter months.  Pot the bulbs in fall and chill them at 40-45 degrees for 12-14 weeks.  Bring them out into a warm sunny room and you’ll have spring early.


Daffodils now come in a huge variety of colors from pure white to multi-colored.  Plant them in the fall about 2-4 weeks before the first frost. Here in Montana, you will want a minimum of 3-5 inches of soil over the bulb to protect them from the snow and cold.  Plant with the pointed end up.  They look wonderful planted in drifts and will naturalize over time.  Daffodils can also be forced indoors.  Deer and squirrels tend to avoid daffodil bulbs.


Tulips are another bulb that has been hybridized to produce many varieties of petal shapes and colors.  Tulips don’t like to be wet, so plant them in a dry area.  If they are planted too early, they’ll send up shoots that might freeze.  September and November before the ground freezes would be best.  Squirrels love to dig up and eat tulip bulbs, so if they are a problem in your area, plant your bulbs in bins made for that purpose or put chicken wire or fencing on top of the bed and secure it with earth pins.

A little work now will pay off with spectacular color early next spring.

Putting the Garden to Bed


Take pictures of all your vegetable and flower beds before you start fall cleanup.  Having a reference to where you planted everything this year will make rotating crops much easier next year.  For flower beds, you may want to put in something new next year or plant the same thing again, and having a visual record makes remembering where everything was planted much easier.

Pull Them Out

Vegetables and annuals will soon be reacting to cold temperatures and when they are done, it’s important to remove them and put them in the compost pile or the trash.  Taking care of this chore now rather than leaving it for next spring gives the soil time to recoup for another season. Plants left in the ground over winter are subject to pests and diseases that you’d rather not have in your garden.

Add Amendments

When the beds are clean, it’s time to add compost.  Resist the urge to till the garden.  If you’ve built your gardens with dedicated growing beds and walkways, tilling only brings up weed seeds that will plague you all next year.  Garden beds that are never walked on or compacted don’t need to be tilled. Tilling just leaves the soil exposed to harsh winter weather.

Cover the Cleaned Beds

Cover cleaned beds with some compost and/or manure, and mulch like shredded leaves, straw or hay, or green cover crops (see video below).  You can plant annual rye or other green manure cover crops and just cut it back in the spring and plant right through it.  This living cover puts much needed nutrients back in your soil.

Clean The Tools

Finally, clean garden tools, tomato cages, stakes, trellises and other objects used with plants in the garden.  Using a mild solution of water and bleach will disinfect any fungus or disease that may have hopped onto your supports.  For tools like shovels, rakes and hand tools, clean off all the dirt, rinse with water, dry completely, and rub a bit of oil over the metal and wood parts before hanging for the winter.





Don’t Burn All The Leaves!

Organic matter that shredded leaves provide when added to your soil is packed with trace minerals that the tree draws up from deep in the earth.  Leaves are one of the best sources for improving your soil whether for gardens or flower beds and fall is the best time to add them.

Chop Them Up

Shredded leaves break down much quicker than whole ones.  You can use a mulching lawn mower to mow them into small pieces, or collect them and put through a leaf shredder, or use a leaf blower that also shreds leaves.

Leaves shredded into small pieces provide an increased surface area so microbes can do their work and it prevents the leaves from packing together and forming a mat that doesn’t let water and air penetrate to the soil.  You can bag more shredded leaves than whole leaves.

Add to Your Gardens

Leaves can be added to bare soil in the garden or flower beds and worked in a little to help reduce the number of weed seeds that can take hold in the spring.  A thick layer of leaves also provides winter protection to garlic, tender perennials and roses.  Any shredded leaves left can be placed in plastic or paper bags and stored for use in the spring and through the summer.

Feed the Worms

I always keep some fall leaves to use in any new raised beds I build in the spring or to add to existing beds.  The leaves encourage worm activity which aerates the soil and feeds the worms who dig small tunnels through the ground to allow air in and leave their waste to nourish my planting beds.

Store What You Don’t Use

Leaves can also be stockpiled to create compost for your gardens next spring.  Every time you add food scraps to the compost pile, add a layer of dry leaves (food is the green stuff, leaves are the brown stuff).  This discourages animals from invading your compost bin and provides the right mix for a hot compost pile.  You can do this all winter if you save your shredded leaves.

Compost Them

A three-bin system works very well for composting and you can keep it going all year.  One bin holds the green and brown material that is heating up so the material composts.  One bin holds the shredded leaves for conveniently adding to the hot bin, and the third bin holds the finished compost.  A little of the finished compost can be added along with the leaves when you add more food scraps.  See

So, shred those leaves, cover all your growing areas with a thick layer, use some for your compost bin, and save some for next spring.

What Fresh Produce Does For You

Just thought you’d like to know what some of the produce at the upcoming 9th Annual Produce Sale on Saturday and Sunday can do for you besides tasting fantastic.

Peaches – This delicious fruit is perfect to freeze, can, make jam and jellies, pies, and cobblers.  One raw peach has 50 calories, 15 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams sugar and 1 gram of protein.  It provides 6% of your daily vitamin A needs and 15% of Vitamin C needs as well as Vitamins ,  K and trace minerals.

Apples – Homemade applesauce comes immediately to mind along with apple pie and cobbler.  Apples are also delicious in tossed salads, tun salad, and mixed with ground chicken to make sausage.  Apples are high in Vitamin C, the B-complex vitamins, fiber, phytonutrients and minerals such as calcium, potassium, and phosphorus.

Tomatoes – A medium sized tomato contains only 22 caloies, 4 grams carbs, 2.6 grams sugar and 1.2 grams of insoluable fiber.  They provide lycopene, vitamin C, potassium, folate and vitamin K.  They make great sauces for pizza, paste, homemade katsup, and salsa.  Buy a bunch, make up your sauces and can or freeze them for savings all winter.

Green & Red Peppers – These are called for in so many recipes including soups, salads, pizzas, and egg dishes.  They are a great source of Vitamin A, C, B6, folate and antioxidants. You can chop fresh peppers into cubes or strips, lay them out on a cookie sheet and freeze.  Then store in plastic bag or ball jars in the freezer for a continuous supply all winter.

Potatoes – Whether its russets, reds, sweet potatoes, or bakers, potatoes are the mainstay of the American diet.  They contain excellent nutrition including Vitamins C, B6, Niacin, Folate, and potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese.  Potatoes store well in a dark, dry basement or root cellar.

Sweet Corn – Yum, sweet corn dripping with butter next to a burger, brat or barbecue chicken and some fresh sliced tomatoes can’t be beat.  100 grams of corn has only about 100 calories, 21 grams carbs, and 4.5 grams sugar.  It’s antioxidants include Zeaxanthin and Lutein.