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Protecting Your Property:
Ensure Proper Winterization and Avoid Costly Repairs

by Mike Fitzpatrick
February 2013

Protecting a hotel property and its grounds from severe damage during the winter months begins with properly winterizing the facility’s irrigation system and plantings.  Failure to take the proper steps to winterize can cause significant damage and costly facility repairs.  There are a number of cost-effective steps hotel owners and managers can take to properly maintain their properties through the winter and to ensure that they are spring-ready. Winterization includes ensuring the irrigation system has been prepared for the cold weather and preparing the vegetation on the property for the winter months.
The benefits of winterizing an irrigation system far outweigh the costs that can accompany such work. Correctly winterizing the irrigation system will help increase the life of pipe fittings, pumps, pipes, sprinklers, valves and other parts of irrigation systems. Properly draining and blowing out pipes can save an irrigation system from a host of potential problems. Irrigation pipes that have frozen are likely to burst and cause leaking or flooding once the ice melts. Replacing burst pipes is not just a hassle; it can also be extremely expensive.
Burst pipes result from residual water freezing during the cold months. Freezing water expands roughly 9%, easily causing the cracking or breaking of pipes. These broken irrigation systems can cause flooding and water damage to structures. A majority of irrigation systems can be cleared of water by shutting off the water supply, making sure all valves and faucets are open and then allowing water to drain out.  Water features such as fountains or waterfalls can remain running throughout winter. In the coldest areas, water features should be drained to prevent water from freezing and breaking the motor. If a water feature is drained, remove the motor and store it in a warm area submerged in water to prevent the cracking of seals.
For properties with more complex irrigation systems, it may be necessary to blow out pipes using compressed air tanks to prevent damaged or burst pipe lines, fittings and valves. Blowing out pipes can remove remaining pools of water from irrigation ‘valleys,’ lower areas where water would settle and freeze without pressure. In some cases, valve traps will hold a small amount of residual moisture even after being blown clean. Adding small amounts of anti-freeze solution to valve traps can help keep them from freezing.
It is also important to ensure that a property’s vegetation is properly prepared for the winter months.  It will not only help save money, but can help to reduce any potential spring stresses.  Plants that cannot handle the temperature changes can be dug out.  Those that are more hardy and can remain in-ground, should be fortified.  This will help save on annual plant replacement costs and help deter pests from attacking garden beds.
Maintaining a healthy winter landscape should also include dethatching. The removal of organic debris that settles around grass blades will keep away pests and parasites that could otherwise harbor there, infecting nearby plants, flowers, trees and shrubs. Clearing the debris after a hard frost will help to ensure plants will not start growing again. Plants that do start to grow again should be cut back in order to force winter hibernation.
There are a variety of flowers which cannot withstand the colder months and many more die after just one frost. To ensure these plants survive the winter season, it is important to follow some simple steps.  First, bulbs that cannot withstand a freeze should be dug out and left in a cool, dark space to wait out the winter. Allow bulbs to dry on newspaper for a period of two weeks to prevent rotting and then place them evenly spaced in a cardboard box or clay pot. The bulbs should then to be covered using materials such as peat moss, pearlite, vermiculite, sawdust or sand, so as to deter new growth while still allowing for healthy ventilation.
Bulbs that can withstand the cold or even freezing temperatures should still be kept under cover, which will allow them to withstand lower temperatures than they are traditionally meant to weather. Applying a layer of clean mulch over frozen ground will insulate garden beds and raise the internal temperature of the bulbs left there. Further, every few weeks, a layer of compost should be added for extra ‘burn heat’ during the coldest times.
Some of the easiest and most cost-effective methods for proper winterization include ensuring that an irrigation system is properly drained, that the proper landscape care maintenance techniques are utilized, and that bulbs are protected. By working closely with a lawn care specialist, damages and expenses caused by burst pipes, diseased lawns, or rotted plants can be avoided. These steps are beneficial when it comes to helping a property survive the winter and emerge healthy in the spring.
About the Author
Mike Fitzpatrick is Vice President of U.S. Lawns, one of the commercial landscape industry's largest and most successful companies with approximately 255 franchise locations nationwide.  With over 30 years of experience in the green industry, Mike’s insight has helped shaped the commercial landscape franchise industry into what it is today.  Mike can be reached at [email protected].  Visit the U.S. Lawns web site at

Mike Fitzpatrick
U.S. Lawns
[email protected]

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