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Prepare Your Deck for Winter and Take the Hard Work Out of Spring Cleaning

posted July 8, 2013

We are all familiar with the importance of preparing our home’s landscape for winter so we can hit the ground running with a beautiful yard and garden in the spring. Whether it’s trimming, pruning, planting bulbs, transplanting or mulching, there are a number of things that can be done in the fall and winter that virtually guarantee a more successful landscape in the spring. The same can be said of your wood deck.

Most people think of landscaping tasks, but deck maintenance is equally as important. Investing just a small amount of time before the worst of weather hits can make all the difference in how your deck will look and perform as the temperature rises.

Western Red Cedar decks are loved for their unmatched beauty and many homeowners with wood decks are familiar with the regular maintenance needed to keep wood decks looking their best. Even decks made of Western Red Cedar, one of the best performing wood species for outdoor applications, need occasional maintenance to keep them in top shape. Regular deck “spring cleaning” enables a wood deck to last for years, even decades.

To make your spring deck maintenance easier, the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association (WRCLA) recommends these simple tasks right now. 

Remove Dirt and Debris

Sweep away all leaves, pine needles and branches from your deck. If you have a large quantity of leaves, you might consider cutting back the trees and bushes that drop the foliage.

Eliminate all debris from between deck boards. Dirt and leaves can build up, causing standing water or other moisture to stay on top of the deck rather than drain through. Proper ventilation is crucial to avoiding moisture build up.

Eliminate Mildew

Mildew should be removed from a deck soon after it appears. Allowing it to grow untreated, even in the winter, can lead to additional deck damage. There are a number of commercial products that can be purchased at any home center or retail lumberyard. And there are some simple solutions that can be made from common household cleaners. The WRCLA suggests killing and removing mildew with a simple solution made from items you have in your home right now.

Using a common garden sprayer, combine 3 quarts of water, 1 quart of oxygen bleach—Oxyclean and Ajax Oxygen Bleach are two of the most popular brands—and 1/4 cup of ammonia-free liquid dishwasher detergent within the spray canister. Apply the solution liberally to the deck surface and allow the mixture to set for about 10-15 minutes. The bleach will kill the mildew and the dishwasher detergent helps emulsify the mildew to aid in its removal. Liquid dishwasher detergent works better than regular dish or laundry detergent because it will not foam.

After allowing the solution to set, simply rinse the surface clean. For tougher mildew stains, apply the solution with a soft bristle brush.

Pots and Planters

Setting planters and pots directly on a deck’s surface may cause staining. Since there are drain holes in the base of potted plants, moisture that runs off never has a chance to evaporate between the deck and the planter. Consider removing planters from your wood deck or moving them around on a regular basis to decrease the effects.

To create space between the deck and planters, place planters onto 2″ x 2″ cedar. Cedar has natural compounds that form a resistance to deterioration, rot and decay—it is these same compounds that give cedar it’s unique fragrance—and the extra space created by the cedar will allow moisture to evaporate. Adding cedar stand-offs underneath other large objects like storage boxes, benches and umbrella stands can also go a long way to promoting a healthy deck.

Using Your Deck During the Winter

If you are going to be using your deck regularly during the winter for using the hot tub, barbecuing, and even sitting around an outdoor fireplace, chimnea or open fire pit, here are some simple tips to safeguard against doing harm to your deck.

If your deck will be covered with snow and you are going to be shoveling it off, run the shovel lengthwise on the deck boards. Shoveling cross-wise can scratch or cut in to the deck. A plastic shovel will also be more forgiving than metal on both the finish and wood. And if possible, avoid salt or other ice melters. They may discolor or damage some deck finishes.

Planning for the Spring

With some initial maintenance and repairs already taken care of, you will have more time to tackle other projects once the weather improves. Maybe this is the year to consider adding a trellis, pergola or other outdoor structure. Spark your ideas by visiting your local home center or retail lumberyard, or visit the many resources available online.