During the winter, it’s easy to bunker down inside your house and forget about what’s going on in your yard. Once you’ve packed up the patio furniture, insulated the water pipes and sent the lawn mower into hibernation, you settle into a routine indoors. There, heaters and hot drinks keep the chill at bay. I’ve certainly been guilty of this.
Unfortunately, there’s a price to pay come spring when the sun reappears and sheds light on all of the deterioration your yard has experienced throughout the winter. This is especially true if you have a wood fence, which can really take a beating in cold, rainy weather. Even worse, much of the damage that occurs to a wood fence during the wintertime tends to fly under the radar. Homeowners often don’t even realize there’s a problem until months later. They suddenly find rotting support posts or insect-infested knotholes.
By simply stepping outside periodically during the winter, you can avoid a lot of extra headaches and maintenance problems in the spring. I recommend the following winter fence maintenance practices:
* Cut back overhanging branches
As much as I love trees, they can cause a lot of problems for a wood fence. In winter, one of the biggest hazards is falling tree limbs, especially during a snow or ice storm. Branches become weighted down and can break, damaging your fence boards on the way down. Before the really bad storms set in, walk along your fence line and trim back any branches that hang within falling distance of your fence.
* Clear off leaves and other debris
Fallen leaves, twigs, pine cones and other debris from your yard can land on your fence rails or become wedged between boards. As this organic matter becomes saturated with rain and starts to decompose, it can leave tannin stains on your fence and even spread rot to the wood. At least once a month throughout the winter, clean off any leaves or other debris that has landed on your fence or is covering the concrete footings.
* Perform post-storm inspections
After any major storms or long bouts of bad weather, head outside and walk along your fence. Look for visible damage. Make sure your fence is still structurally sound by jiggling each post to see if it’s still firmly planted. Use a level or run a piece of string along the tops of fence posts to ensure they are all straight. Check fence posts and rails for rot; if you’re not sure, probe the area with an awl or screwdriver to test for sponginess.
* Make small repairs
Winter isn’t the ideal time to embark upon a major wood fence repair project, but there are plenty of stop-gap repairs you can do to prevent the winter weather from turning minor problems into major ones.
Popped nails can be pounded back into place, but add a second nail an inch or two away to help strengthen the area.
Rotten Fence Rails
If you notice rot forming at the ends of a supporting rail, cut a 2×4 down to the length of your post width and screw or nail it beneath the rail at the post for extra support. This is a temporary fix, so you’ll need to come back and replace the rail when the weather warms up.
It’s common for knots in the wood to fall out as the temperature changes. Leaving knotholes invites termites or other insects to come snack on your fence. Use a wood filler to fix any knotholes you find during your fence inspections.
If you find rot in one of your fence posts, keep it from spreading by cutting out the rotted section and sealing the area with a wood preservative. This only works if you remove less than an inch of depth; any more, and the post should be replaced.
Space between Posts and Concrete
If a gap appears between a fence post and the concrete into which it’s set, caulk the gap to seal it against moisture. Use a silicone caulk that’s meant for bonding wood to concrete.
Weak or Leaning Fence Posts
To reinforce a leaning fence post, screw a 2×4 to each side of the post. Extend these down at least six inches into the ground and up to the first supporting rail. If your posts are set into concrete footers, use a metal sleeve instead. Wedge the bottom edge of the sleeve between the post and the concrete, and pound it into place with a sledgehammer. Secure with nails.
By paying your fence just a little attention throughout the winter, you can avoid costly repairs in the spring. Trust me, it’s worth it.