A Step-by-Step Guide to Winterizing Your Landscape

modern home in winter

Although winterizing your landscape may seem like a yearly hassle, neglecting this task could introduce newer issues come spring. Whether you have an irrigation system, hardscaping, or a few garden beds, a good winterization plan can help prevent burst lines, stunted growth, cracks in concrete and stone, and so much more.

Your winterization plan will vary based on the elements you have in your existing landscape. Use this article as a guide to help you create your unique plan.

1. Remove Weeds

By the time late fall rolls around, you don’t have to worry about digging dandelions out of your yard, but you do need to pull as many weeds as possible. Weeds are tough, opportunistic plants that consume soil nutrients voraciously all year long, and some weeds thrive and continue to grow during the winter. When weeds are left in garden beds, they begin to compete with other plants for nutrients. In fact, weeds are so competitive, they could cause grass, garden flowers, and shrubbery to starve to death over winter.

You can remove weeds by using a weed whacker or spray-on weed killer. Additionally, mulching isn’t just a spring task! If you tend to see a lot of weed growth, consider adding mulch or landscaping rocks to your garden in the late summer or early fall. 

When to Remove Weeds: Plan on checking for and removing weeds from early fall to early winter. 

2. Fertilize

When temperatures start declining rapidly in October, plants enter a type of hibernation mode in which they remove most nutrients from leaves and send them to their roots for safekeeping during winter. 

Winter fertilizer is specially formulated with potassium and nitrate to give lawns and plants enough energy and food storage to survive the winter. There are several types of winter fertilizers available on this market—if you aren’t sure which one is best for your needs, please read this article

When to Fertilize: Applying fertilizer before the first hard frost bites Michigan is the best way to ensure grass and plants have plenty of nutrients stored until next spring. The first frost date in Michigan will vary depending on the region you live in. Typically the northern regions will see first frost dates in September while other regions may see first frost dates in early-to-mid October. You can visit this website for more information on frost dates in your specific city. 

3. Remove Debris

Remove dead leaves, grass, and other plant debris from your lawn by grabbing a rake and running the rake firmly but gently over the top of the grass. Even a small amount of lawn debris creates a barrier dense enough to prevent winter fertilizer and water from reaching plant roots. Grass that doesn’t receive enough moisture over winter is usually slow to sprout or may not sprout at all.

When to Remove Debris: This will be an ongoing task you undertake as soon as leaves begin falling off of the trees in your yard. Make it a point to remove bag up, mulch, or compost leaves at least once a week, depending on how many trees are in your property. 

4. Maintain Your Sprinkler System

garden sprinkler among the snow

Because so many winterization tasks are centered around lawns, it’s easy to forget about winterizing extra landscape features, including sprinkler systems. 

Some tasks you should plan on performing before winter include:

  • Shutting Off the Water:  Most sprinkler systems have a main valve adjacent to or close to the water meter. Valves that stop backflow need to be shut off, too. Sprinkler systems that do not use potable water probably won’t have a backflow valve.
  • Turn the Automatic Timer Off: If your sprinkler system has a “rain” setting, this mode allows you to gradually power down the timer so you won’t lose your pre-programmed settings.
  • Drain the Water:  Although it’s important to stop water from entering your sprinkler system, it’s equally important to drain existing water out of the system. Different types of sprinkler systems have different methods for draining water so check your owner’s manual for instructions.

When to Start Sprinkler System Winterization Tasks: Plan on doing this in early or late fall before your first freeze. Once September rolls around, be sure to check the weather forecast, as the first freeze usually occurs in September or October.  

5. Seal & Clean Walkways & Driveways

Shovel and bucket of salt used to melt ice on driveway

Most people sprinkle salt on iced-over concrete driveways and walkways because they want the ice to melt as quickly as possible. But did you know that the combination of ice melting and salt accelerates corrosion and cracking deep within a slab of concrete? Add the natural process of concrete contracting and expanding due to melting ice, and you’ve got a driveway and walkway that will need to be replaced every two or three years.

Never use traditional salt on your driveway and sidewalks. Only ice melts containing urea, calcium chloride or calcium magnesium acetate should be used on concrete. 

The best way to protect concrete during winter is to seal it with a concrete-specific sealant that prevents water absorption, as well as ice and snow damage. Winterizing your concrete driveway and pathways with sealants also prevents corrosion caused by leaking vehicle fluids such as oil, transmission fluid, and brake fluid.

When to Seal Your Driveways: Plan to do it in the late summer (late August to mid-September). You will typically want to seal your driveways and other concrete surfaces before temperatures begin to fall. 

Tend to Other Hardscaping Elements

Lastly, a good landscape winterization plan should also include any hardscaping elements you have. There are dozens of various types of hardscaping elements you could have on your property, including driveways, walkways, retaining walls, outdoor fountains, and ponds. 

Just like driveways and walkways, retaining walls are pretty hardy, but will need its pavers sealed every few years to prevent cracks and other stress formation. 

For outdoor fountains, you’ll want to remove all water from the fountain first, inspect all components for signs of wear and tear, and then cover the fountain until spring. If you have a full backyard pond, you’ll have to do more work before winter. You’ll need to remove debris from the pond, install netting, treat the pond with a coldwater bacteria solution, turn off the pump, clean the filter, and add a de-icer. For convenience, you should purchase a pond winterizing kit that has everything you need from the coldwater bacteria solution to the de-icer. 

When to Winterize Hardscape Elements: In the early fall before the first freeze. 

Winterizing Mistakes to Avoid

The worst mistake you can make as far as winterization goes is avoiding it altogether. As previously mentioned, ignoring much-needed winterization tasks increases risks of hardscaping damage, lawn damage, and stunted growth during the spring. Other common winterization mistakes include procrastinating, over pruning, fertilizing too late, and neglecting hardscaping.


Although procrastination isn’t as bad as opting out altogether, remember that you’re only hurting yourself if you procrastinate. Would you rather perform these tasks in the late summer and early fall before the weather gets cold, or in mid November once the weather has become consistently cold or below freezing? Additionally, for certain tasks, like winterizing sprinkler systems, waiting can be dangerous, as water inside pipes can freeze and burst. 

Over Pruning 

It’s always a good idea to remove annuals from your garden and prune back perennials. However, too much pruning can happen, and when it does, it can inhibit future growth. Major pruning should never happen in the fall and winter, but rather during peak growth season. If pruning in the fall and winter, do it lightly. Trim off any deadheads, but don’t remove more than one-fourth of the plant, as it may result in your plant not growing as well in the spring. 

Fertilizing Too Late

You must fertilize your lawn on time. Ideally, you should do it six weeks before the first frost date. When the temperature is consistently below 55 degrees, the grass will go dormant and will not accept any new nutrients. When applied correctly, fertilizer will ensure your lawn has the nutrients it needs to survive the winter.

Neglecting Hardscaping

While concrete, stone, and brick are hardy, it’s wrong to assume that they’re impenetrable. Over time, driveways, walkways, and steps can crack, shift, and spall. When considering how expensive these elements are to replace, it’s in your best interest to take the time and effort to maintain them through routine debris removal and resealing.

Have Questions? Contact Design One Today!

Design One is the premiere hardscape and landscape design company for businesses and homeowners in Michigan. If you have general questions about hardscape and landscape winterization, please contact one of our specialists today.

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