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Q: This is our first year as homeowners. What outdoor maintenance do you recommend?

A: Compared to spring, summer and fall, winter is mostly a down time when it comes to your garden and to doing outside maintenance.

Homeowners often overlook taking the proper measures to prolong the life of their tools, mower, hoses and outdoor pipes. Winter is the perfect time to get everything clean and organized for spring.

Clean your tools with a wire brush, and sharpen them using a sawing motion in a bucket of sand mixed with oil.

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This is also the perfect time to tune up your lawn mower. Run the engine dry, drain and replace the oil and replace the air filter.

If the blades need sharpening or other repairs are needed, take your mower to the shop now during the slow season.

You may even find that the cost of any necessary repairs is lower during the off-season. Winter is also a great time to find lower prices on the garden items you may need or want to replace.

Disconnect nozzles from hoses and hoses from their spigots. Stretch out the hoses to drain all water before storing them, preferably under cover, for the season.

Even though Northwest winters tend to be mild, it’s a good idea to put pipe wrap or other protection around your outdoor spigots to prevent them from freezing.

When it comes to freezing pipes, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure.

Winter is a good time to straighten up your garden shed or storage area.

Store pesticides and other hazardous materials in a locked cupboard, out of the reach of children and pets. Compost piles need very little attention during the winter, but if they aren’t frozen they will benefit from being turned over at least a couple of times. During very cold weather, it is a good idea to cover compost piles.

Once the ground has frozen to an inch deep, put a layer of straw mulch on your roses, strawberry plants and perennials.

If you applied dormant spray in November, give your plants and deciduous trees a second application. When you see new buds popping out in late January and early February, apply the third and final winter coat.

If the area experiences more extremely cold weather, tender plants and early-flowering plants such as camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons and daphnes will need some extra help.

Put stakes around their perimeter and drape a cloth covering such as burlap or flannel over each plant (without touching the leaves).

Remove the wraps as soon as temperatures warm up. To protect tender young trees from winter scalding and freezing, cover their trunks in paper tree wrap, starting at the base and spiraling upward.

HomeWork is the weekly column by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties’ Remodelers Council about home care, repair and improvements. If you have questions about home improvement, send them to

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