Homeowners are increasingly turning their attention to hardscaping — those landscape elements that are made of hard materials such as brick, wood or stone — to transform their outdoor space. For those looking to maximize beauty while minimizing work, extensive hardscaping is an attractive solution. These beautiful and functional walkways, decks and patios don’t need to be mowed in the summer nor be replanted in the spring.
However, while it is true that hardscapes can be considered low maintenance, they are not “no maintenance.” This is especially the case during winter, when harsh weather and freezing temperatures can adversely affect your hardscaping.
Luckily, with just a little bit of effort, you can preserve your outdoor space for years to come.
Preparing and Maintaining Hardscapes for Winter
The key to properly maintaining winter hardscapes is preparing them before the harsh weather actually hits. Consider the mild temperatures of autumn. This is one of the most enjoyable times to do work outside, so what better time to do the majority of the preventative maintenance on your outdoor living spaces?
Here’s what to do:
1. Prep your furniture.
Despite being designed for the outdoors, patio furniture should be your first step when prepping for winter. Because outdoor furniture gets very little use in winter and because it will be exposed to the harsh winter weather, winter is tougher on your furniture than all other seasons combined.
With that in mind, you have one of two options when prepping outdoor furniture for the colder months. Many opt for covering their furniture. Depending on the quality of your outdoor furniture, it may have come with custom sized covers. If so, use them.
If you don’t have custom covers, don’t fret. Generic furniture covers come in a variety of sizes, and unless your furniture is a particularly odd shape or size, you can easily find a cover that will fit snuggly and do the job just as well as a custom one.
If your seating has fabric cushions, you should bring the cushions inside, even if the base of the furniture remains outside. If the fabric can be removed, this would be a great time to launder them as well, as the warmer months can cause mildew to form even if it isn’t visible.
The best way to protect your furniture is to bring it inside so it doesn’t fall victim to the winter weather. If you have an outdoor shed or copious garage or basement space, store your furniture there. But, if you don’t have that space or if your furniture is large, leave it outside and take the steps to protect it so you’ll be able to use it again when the weather warms.
2. Prep your outdoor kitchen.
Most homeowners have at least one classic outdoor cooking appliance — a grill. Outdoor cooking has only increased in popularity, though, and as such, many homeowners have increased the size of their outdoor kitchen to include brick ovens, wet bars and even refrigeration.
Whether you are still working with the basic round charcoal grill or you are firing homemade brick oven pizzas, you should always take care to protect your outdoor kitchen before the first snowfall, especially since the colder weather will likely cause you to do the majority of your cooking inside.
If you have a grill and you have the space to move it inside, by all means, do so. Simply add it to your list of furniture you bring in every fall.
However, whether your grill is too large to bring inside or you are the adventurous type who still likes to light up the charcoal even in sub-zero weather, many people are better off leaving their grill outside year round. If so, just make sure you have a good snug cover that will keep it protected.
If you have a more extensive outdoor kitchen, you also want to make sure to shut down and drain the water lines before they have the chance to freeze. Cover your sinks to ensure they do not collect debris or ice that could cause damage. You’ll also want to disconnect the electricity to any powered outdoor appliances. Finally, give all of your outdoor appliances a thorough cleaning.
Just keep in mind that unlike your sink, you do not want to cover any outdoor appliances that have electric components. A cover will actually cause moisture to collect on the wiring and could potentially damage your equipment.
If you have a stone countertop, make sure you use a specialty winter sealant to prevent unsightly leaf stains or cracking during the winter.
3. Prep your water feature.
Since water freezes in winter, water features require special care during the colder months.
Depending on the size and nature of your water feature, there may be detailed specific steps that will be outlined by their manufacturer. However, there are a number of general rules that any water feature owner should follow, regardless of the size.
Start by removing any tropical plants or fish that are not able to handle freezing temperatures. Follow that with a good cleaning of your water feature. Winter conditions can make the build-up associated with water features much more damaging, so it’s best to make sure your fountain or pond is clean before it freezes.
If you have a feature like a fountain that does not need to run during the winter, shut off and drain the water lines. Also remove the pump so it isn’t damaged by the winter cold. Make sure to do this well before the first freeze so any residual moisture can evaporate first.
However, if you own a pond containing fish that are capable of withstanding the winter, you want to make sure water continues to circulate. Consult the water line and pump manufacturer recommendations to properly maintain the water circulation to keep your fish happy and healthy.
4. Prep your deck.
Regardless of the materials used, winter can be hard on a deck. That’s why the autumn is the best time to do the prep work before winter sets in.
Start by both power washing and sealing your deck. Power washing removes build-up that can be locked into the wood by a winter’s freeze. Sealing gives your deck a layer of protection against the elements. These are also good practices for the spring as well, as the harsh summer rays are equally hard on decks.
You also want to make sure any plants, trees or bushes near your deck are well-trimmed. Mold and moss on plants can easily travel to the wood of your deck, so it is best to leave a 12-inch gap between plants and your deck.
Make sure you have been keeping up with your deck sweeping as well. Just leaving leaves and other debris to sit can wreak havoc on a wood deck, so make sure even the corners have been properly swept.
If you can, also move all your furniture and potted plants off of your deck for the winter. These items can leave stains on the wood and be damaged themselves in the winter months.
5. Prep your potted plants.
Your plants also need to be taken care of and properly prepared for the winter’s freeze. This is especially important if they are plants that do not naturally do well in the freezing temperatures.
If your plants are small enough, bring them inside before the first frost. Not only will this help preserve them, but adding some green to your indoor space is a great way to brighten up the winter — when you are likely going to be spending a lot of time inside. Just make sure if you do bring your plants inside, you are keeping them in a place where they will get enough sun.
If your planters are too large to move inside, you should wrap the plants with an insulating fabric, such as burlap. Not only will this protect the plant by keeping the soil warm, but it will also preserve the planter itself.
6. Tackle those gutters one last time.
While this isn’t directly related to hardscaping, there is one unpleasant home care task that can also benefit your hardscape in winter: cleaning your gutters.
Remember, snow and ice can collect on your roof all winter long. When it melts, you will suddenly have a large amount of water that needs to be guided to its proper place. Also remember that autumn leaves are the most common gutter-clogging materials. A combination of thawing snow and leaf-filled gutters can do a lot of damage to your hardscaping — in addition to your home’s foundation and other portions of your property.
So while cleaning the gutters isn’t fun, it is important, whether you have extensive hardscaping or not.
Ongoing Winter Maintenance
While much of the winterizing work actually takes place before winter sets in, there are things you can do during the winter to ensure your hardscapes and landscapes are weathering the cold well.
First and foremost, if it does snow, consider shoveling your hardscape just as you would your driveway or sidewalks. While you may not be using your outdoor brick patio during the winter, a blanket of snow could still be doing damage to your hardscape just by sitting there.
To avoid damaging your hardscaping materials, you will want to keep in mind that some surfaces can handle the scraping of the shovel while others can’t. If you are going to shovel your patio, use a plastic shovel rather than a metal one, which is more likely to gouge. If you can sweep the snow rather than shovel it, that’s even better.
Also avoid using de-icers such as salt, if possible. These are especially harsh and can leave divots in your surface, cause unsightly discoloration or even cause your pavers to become brittle. If you do need to use a product to make walking on your hardscaping safer during icy conditions, consider using cat litter. This adds grit to reduce slipping without damaging the surface of your hardscape.
If you do have to use ice melt, make sure to clean it up as soon as the winter event is over to prevent it from seeping into your hardscape surface.
Keep Entertaining All Year Long
What if you plan to keep using your outdoor space rather than closing it up for the winter? If that’s the case, great! You’ll still want to ensure your space stays free of debris, snow and other elements that could damage your hardscape, but you can incorporate features that will provide warmth and comfort even when the temperatures plummet:
Fire pit. Many outdoor living spaces these days include a fire pit. They are great for roasting marshmallows or singing campfire songs during the summer, but they can also be used to provide enough heat to enjoy your outdoor space in the winter. Whether your fire pit is portable — generally a metal structure with legs to keep it off the ground — or a permanently installed one, just make sure you have a sufficient fire break surrounding the pit. This is a non-flammable flat surface that surrounds the pit where people can gather but won’t catch fire if a spark or ember lands outside of the pit.
Chimenea. A chimenea is a variation on the fire pit, but it’s instead more like an outdoor fire place. Some are made out of clay while others are metal, and they include a chimney. Just keep in mind that while they are more contained than a fire pit, sparks and embers can still escape, so they should also be used with a fire break.
Patio heaters. Patio heaters are an easy and energy efficient way to temporarily heat outdoor spaces. They come in a variety of sizes, making it easy to find the perfect heater for the amount of space available and the size of the crowd you are trying to keep warm. Just make sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to avoid the risk of fire.
For All Your Future Hardscaping Needs
Here at Watson Supply, we have been meeting the landscaping and hardscaping needs of Central Pennsylvania since 1993. We supply the essential tools and materials from industry leaders to help you transform your outdoor space into the landscape of your dreams.