Five days into the New Year, it's time to prepare for the worst that winter has to offer. There are oceans of tricks to help you cope with a snowstorm.
First, invest in the materials that will simplify the job. From the auto supply store, bring home an aerosol can or two of silicone spray. You can spray the ignition wires of the car to protect them against condensation over the winter.
The main reason for it, though, is to simplify snow removal. Spray silicone over the metal surface of your snow shovel, doing this outside the garage so the vapors dissipate in the air. When you shovel, the snow will glide off the surface like water running down a window pane. You'll never shovel snow twice for this reason. When you put the shovel away after the first snow, apply another coat of silicone to the metal surface so it's ready for the next storm.
Suburban homeowners with long driveways have taken to snow-plowing with garden tractors and four-wheel-drive vehicles. Plow blades must receive a liberal coat of paste wax or, in an emergency, a silicone spray to stop snow and ice from sticking to the metal surface. In snowy winters, repeat waxings are essential.
Silicone comes in handy to prepare snow throwers for winter use. Until recent times, the "augers" that collected snow on the ground were made of metal, in which case a generous spray of silicone would make snow fighting all the easier. Today, augers are made of heavy-duty plastic, so snow throwers are virtually indestructible. But as the plastic wears, periodic applications of silicone will restore the augers to peak operating condition. Move the powered equipment out of the garage, then spray silicone liberally on both sides of the augers. Spray the discharge chute, too, to prevent snow from clogging.
If snow should disable the augers, shut down the engine and use a stick to prod the augers and remove the snow. Never put your bare or gloved hands near the augers to dislodge ice or snow in the unit.
If you don't recall having serviced the snow thrower last spring prior to storage, do so immediately. Refer to your owner's manual for instructions on preparing the machine for winter.
With gasoline-powered snow throwers, it may be impossible to turn over the engine unless it was serviced last spring. To start the engine, replace the spark plug and gap it according to specifications in the owner's manual. Clean the air filter, too, since air flow to the carburetor may be choked off from a dirty filter.
Most gas-powered snow throwers have single-cycle engines that need a mixture of oil and gasoline. Often, a label affixed to the top of the fuel tank gives you exact instructions on what mixture to use. Add fresh fuel to the tank, engage the choke, then pull the starter cord a few times to start the engine.
If after repeated attempts the engine won't engage, the carburetor may require an overhaul because intake valves have gummed up. However, before committing the machine to at least a $100 repair job, make this last-ditch effort:
At the mower shop, buy an aerosol can of "hot start," or concentrated ether. Remove the ignition wire from the spark plug, then the plug itself. Place the nozzle of the "hot start" can close to the spark plug opening and make a quick spray inside the cylinder. Quickly return the spark plug to its place, attach the ignition wire, make sure the choke is engaged, then pull the starter cord in an attempt to restart the engine. Most times the ether ignites and triggers an immediate flow of gasoline into the carburetor, in which case you've just saved yourself $100.
Sometimes, the engine turns over, then dies in a second or two. If that happens, remove the spark plug again, repeat the hot start spray, attach the plug and restart the engine. The second attempt seldom fails.
When you want to melt ice on the sidewalk and driveway, never use salt crystals (sodium chloride), even if it's free. Sodium is toxic to all plants, so that any application of salt crystals to the sidewalk or driveway is almost certain to kill the very plants you've been trying to save.
Remember, too, that if you have a water softener in the house, you have exchanged calcium in the high pH water for the same sodium that is murder to plants. For this reason, never use "soft water" for indoor or outdoor plants
As for melting ice, it's environmentally safe to use one of two products: urea or calcium chloride. While the former is cheaper, the latter works better, melting ice even when temperatures drop below zero. Neither product will harm plants, asphalt, concrete or your clothes.
Now, a potpourri of reminders:
Mulch any plants with bare soil. Mums planted in November deserve a three- or four-inch layer of pine bark nuggets to keep plants frozen intact for the winter. Don't forget the Dusty Miller, too, so it overwinters and leafs out next April. Azaleas, fruit trees and shrubs should be mulched now where mulch was removed last fall to eliminate disease problems for this year. If in doubt, mulching is a safe bet. With trees, keep the mulch an inch or so away from trunks to deter field mice from gnawing and feeding on the bark over the winter.
Move Norfolk Island pine now to the coolest room of the house where there is some indirect light. Even a northern room is acceptable. Allow the soil to go dry for one day, then moisten the soil the next day with lukewarm to hot water. Always wet the soil in the morning as room temperatures are rising.
Move all citrus plants immediately to cool quarters for the winter. Continue to keep the soil lightly moist, but in temperatures between 45 and 55 degrees, water every 10 to 14 days with good soil. Apply no fertilizer until late March. Jack Eden is the host of "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).