Get creative with your flower boxes and containers
Remove frozen plants from containers and hanging baskets and replace them with evergreen boughs, branches with colorful berries and interesting seed heads from perennials and ornamental grasses.
Garden centers have lots of options for decorating your containers if you do not have materials available in your garden. Push ends of the stems into the growing medium in the container to support the branches.
Try to do this before a hard freeze makes it impossible to push in the ends of the branches.
• Disconnect garden hoses from outdoor spigots and faucets as night temperatures begin to drop. Reconnect hoses to water new plants or plants in containers as needed during any warm spells.
If you leave a garden hose attached, a small amount of water can stay lodged in the pipe near the spigot and quickly freeze. This ice can damage your faucet and pipe. Once you have finished watering for the season, turn off the water supply inside your house, disconnect hoses and tighten all the faucets after opening them to drain out any remaining water.
It is important to keep water out of exterior pipe systems that will not be used in the winter because trapped water can freeze and expand, causing cracks and breaks and even bursting pipes.
You may have frost-free faucets on the side of your house. These are essentially standard hose spigots with a long pipe on the back end that extends through the side of the house. It looks the same as a regular spigot from outside the house, but the connection and valve that control the water supply are inside, where it's warmer and protected from freezing.
A properly installed frost-free faucet has a slight downward pitch toward the spigot so that water drains out of the pipe when the water is turned off, leaving no water to freeze in the pipe. If you are unsure whether your faucets are indeed frost-free and installed properly, it is a good idea have a plumber inspect them to avoid a broken water line and big mess in the house.
• Try pinning garden netting over freshly planted beds of bulbs to discourage chipmunks and squirrels from digging up the bulbs. This does not work very well when drifting bulbs into shrub and perennial borders, as the bulbs are spread out over a larger area and existing plants will be in the way of the netting. Remove the netting in early winter when the ground has frozen or in early spring.
A light layer of mulch over the netting will help hide it. Spreading blood meal over the bed may also work to repel chipmunks and squirrels. Though not feasible on a large scale, small pockets of bulbs can be protected by covering with chicken wire underground to protect them from being dug up. The bulbs will grow through the chicken wire in spring.
• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.