If talk of El Niño has you worried about a slushy, icy winter, here’s how to prepare

I don’t know about you, but I am getting tired of all the El Niño prediction talk. No one likes the transition from the growing season to the snowing season, and now we have the possibility of a warmer winter? That sounds like lots of wet, heavy snow.

While we can’t predict the impact of an El Niño winter, we all know days are shorter and it is too cold to grow anything outdoors. It is finally time to put away the lawn mower and other summer yardening equipment and tools. I am keeping our battery operated leaf blower handy; it really works on fluffy snow.

About that mower. Frankly, I have never drained the gasoline out of a mower in preparation for winter storage. Nor have I mixed in a gasoline stabilizer to prevent a tank of fuel from gunking up during the winter. I have never had a problem in the spring. I see both often recommended, but I am just saying.

I have already mentioned the need to mark walks, drives and paths so you know where they are, where to plow and shovel and where not to. I didn’t include marking the location where you want snow dumped just in case this El Niño does mean lots more snow than usual.

As you put away the garden tools and get out the things you use to deal with snow, it is a good time to reconsider how you actually clear snow.

For years, we have all seen improvements in snow shovel and snow-pusher manufacture. What used to be made of heavy metal first became lighter aluminum and then morphed into lightweight, but very durable, hard plastic shovel scoops.

Therein lies the problem. These new snow tools are so light we naturally figure we can handle the bigger ones, especially if they have an ergonomic handle to save the back. You figure you will get the job done quicker with the biggest snow shovel or widest blade.


First of all, I am no doctor, but I know that from a heart perspective pushing snow rather than lifting and flinging it out of the way is a much safer way to clear your walks. And, if you do use a shovel, consider a smaller size. Smaller push tools and brooms are probably better than the wide ones.

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Listen to the “Teaming with Microbes” podcast with Jeff Lowenfels and Jonathan White

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While on the subject of shovels and push blades, WD-40 or cooking oil spray applied to shovel and blades really does prevent wet snow from sticking to it. And that leaf blower really does work if the snow isn’t too wet. Consider sliding a section of that plastic foam pipe insulation tubing onto your snow tool handles so you don’t need gloves and won’t get blisters.

Assuming this El Niño brings heavy snows, it is a good idea to have something to knock the snow off bushes and tree limbs. A 10-foot-long, 1-inch-diameter dowel is a good investment to protect your trees and shrubs.

And finally, if this El Niño makes things warmer, you need to plan for dealing with ice. Sand is the safest thing to use when it comes to not damaging plants. There are all manner of recipes for soap, alcohol, water mix sprays on the internet. And you can buy salt-based mixes, but read the labels carefully to make sure you really want to.

In any case, don’t wait until the first really big snow hits. Finish up summer and fall and then plan ahead because as sure as summer and fall rains are over, winter snows will be here.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: It is never too late to join, or too early for that matter. This is a place to help you get through winter!

Grow lights: Yours are up, right? What are you waiting for?

Winter flowering plants: Cyclamen will bloom all winter long if you pluck off the flowers and their stems and provide a bit of light.

Amaryllis: Time to buy new ones when you see them for sale.

Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti: Provide natural light and a cool room — 55-60 degrees — to ensure blooms.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.