Want Your Lawn to Survive the Winter? Here’s What You Need to Know

Winter isn’t typically the time many people think about lawn care, but just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean your lawn should be ignored. Winter is just as important when it comes to laying the groundwork for a healthy lawn in the spring. Before you put away the lawn mower and prepare for a few months of no weeding or grass mowing, here are a few things you can do to ensure you’ll have a lush, green lawn come spring.

Pre-Winter Mowing

It is important to mow your lawn short for the winter, especially in areas of the country, such as Illinois where there is a risk of heavy snow. About one month before winter arrives, gradually lower the cutting height each time you mow, until the blades are as low as they can go. Snow can cause high grass to lay over on itself, causing reduced air circulation that can lead to snow mold and/or permanent damage to the grass. After your last mow of the season, prepare the mower for spring by draining the gas tank, change the oil and clean the underside of the mower.

Final Fertilization

Late fall is the perfect time to aerate and give your lawn a final fertilization. Clear the lawn of any debris, such as toys and gardening equipment before you aerate and fertilize. Aerating your lawn before the first freeze will help to reduce the thatch next spring and a good round of fertilization will allow your lawn to store much needed nutrients in the root system, both of which will prepare your lawn for beautiful spring growth.

Dormant Perennials

If you have dormant perennial plants, cut back brown tops. Do not cut the tops if they are still green, wait until they turn yellow or brown. Trees and shrubs typically do not need any special care before winter; as long as proper pruning and trimming was completed in the early fall.

Remove lawn furniture and store in a dry location, such as the garage. Make sure to gather winter lawn equipment from the back of the garage before placing spring and summer equipment in. If necessary, take snow throwers and other winter equipment in for professional servicing before the first snow falls.

Contact Ralph Helm Inc. to schedule routine servicing and maintenance on your summer and/or winter lawn equipment.

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Preparing Outdoor Power Equipment for Winter

Preparing Outdoor Power Equipment for Winter

Fall is nearly finished, which means winter will be here soon. It’s time to put away the lawn mower and weed eater and move the snow blower and generator toward the front of the garage. After the last mow of the season, it is important to properly prepare your outdoor lawn equipment for winter. The following tips will help ensure your summer and fall power equipment is ready to be stored and the winter equipment is ready for use.

Maintenance, Servicing and Storing Summer Equipment

Before summer power equipment is stored for the season, it should be cleaned and serviced. Whether you do the maintenance and servicing yourself or you take it to a repair shop, it is important to:

  • Drain and change the engine oil
  • Clean the undercarriage on the mower and sharpen the blades
  • Clean the air filter

Spring and summer equipment should be stored in a clean, dry area, such as the garage or a shed, and the gas should be drained before storing.

Preparing Winter Power Equipment

Before using any of the winter equipment, it is best to review the owner’s manual just to re-familiarize yourself with required maintenance and how to safely handle the equipment. Carefully inspect your snow blower and generator to ensure there are no damages, such as loose or damaged wiring that occurred during storage. Preparations for use should include:

  • Recharging the battery to make sure it has a full charge in case of an unexpected winter storm
  • Fill gas cans with the type of fuel recommended for your equipment (this information can usually be found in the owner’s manual)
  • Check the oil level, then change and/or refill if necessary
  • Check spark plugs to ensure they are clean and securely in place

This is also the time to prepare your small, non-powered tools and equipment. Inspect your snow shovels to make sure there is no damage to the blade and that the handle is securely in place. Make sure you have plenty of salt on hand and that it is placed in a convenient location, such as toward the front of the garage or shed.

Contact Ralph Helm Inc. Lawn Equipment Center to learn more information about safely preparing outdoor equipment for winter or to schedule an appointment for maintenance and servicing on all of your lawn equipment.

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Late Fall Mower Maintenance Tips

With all of your outdoor summer chores taken care of, you might think that it is time to put your lawn mower away for a few months. Not so fast. Fall is the perfect time to handle some of that mower maintenance you may have been neglecting. Taking care of your mower’s basic needs today will mean that is it ready to get to work once spring arrives.

Getting Your Mower Ready for Winter Storage

You wouldn’t dream of packing away your spring clothes without washing them first, right? So why would you roll your lawn mower into your shed without giving it a good scrubbing too? Keeping your lawn mower working well requires keeping it in good shape. That begins by making sure it is free of ground dirt and debris that can cause rust, clogs or worse over the cold winter months.  Take a few minutes in the fall to make sure that every part of your mower is clean and lubricated before relegating it to storage.

So, what other things should you be doing to maintain your lawn mower this fall? Here are some basic tips to follow:

  • Remove the battery. Cold temperatures can sap the battery of its power. To maintain a healthy lifespan, remove the battery and store it somewhere warm and safe during the winter months.
  • Drain the gas and oil. Leaving both gas and oil in the mower while not in use can clog or gum up the engine. This can cause some real problems in the spring.
  • Sharpen the blades. Mower blades need to be sharpened annually to keep them working well. Take care of this maintenance chore in the fall so your mower is ready to get to work when spring arrives.
  • Remove spark plugs. Store them separately when your lawn mower is not in use.
  • Clean air filters. This is essential to keeping your lawn mower running smoothly.
  • Check for any broken, cracked or overly used pieces. Give your lawn mower a good check every fall and replace any parts that look to be too old or broken. This is also a good time to check tires and wheels for wear and tear.

Call in Professional Help

If fall maintenance on your lawnmower is too much for you to handle – or you simply do not have the time, consider calling in the experts at Ralph Helm Inc., the leading lawnmower equipment service center in the Fox Valley since 1923. Whether you need a part, a whole new lawn mower or simply want the one you have serviced, the professional staff at Ralph Helm Inc. is ready to offer the help you need.

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Fall Grass Seeding: What is Dormant Seeding?

If your lawn is not as lush and green as you would like, but you have missed the optimal seeding window this fall (August to September), you still have options that will allow you to have a great lawn next spring. A process known as dormant seeding is basically distributing grass seed when the weather is too cold for the seeds to germinate. This type of grass seeding is ideal for re-seeding areas with bare soil and to give you a jump on having a greener, thicker lawn next spring.

When is the Best Time for Dormant Seeding?

The process of dormant seeding involves putting seed down before the ground is frozen, but cold enough that germination of the grass seed will not happen until the next spring after the ground and soil begins to get warm. Seeds, including grass seeds that don’t germinate late in the fall season, typically don’t survive winter weather because the immature seedlings struggle to survive in harsh conditions. The process of preparing the ground for dormant seeding is the same as seeding for grass at other seeding times of the year.

What is the Process?

One of the most important parts of this type of seeding process is choosing the seed. It is essential to choose seed mixes that adapt well to the amount of maintenance you will plan to do during the growing season and the conditions of the site where the seeding will be done. Soil contact is also important for a successful grass seeding, so the initial prepping of the area is necessary. The soil must be loosened (about a half-inch of loose soil) for the seed to be incorporated into the surface.

A hand rake can usually be used for small areas of bare soil, but larger areas are better prepared by going over the area with a vertical mower or power rake. Make sure to remove all of the grass and plant debris that was loosened during this process so that it doesn’t interfere with the sowing process. Once you have properly sown the seeds, thoroughly water the area, then leave it alone until next spring.

Dormant seeding is low maintenance and requires less irrigation than is required for seeding during the warmer months. When dormant seeding is completed, the seed will be covered and protected by the winter snowfall. Once spring arrives, the grass will emerge, but you may need to do some additional seeding in thin areas. However, it’s important to wait until the seedlings emerge to do this so you don’t end up over-seeding.

Contact Ralph Helm Inc. Lawn Equipment Center to learn more information about dormant seeding and/or the best equipment for seeding and mowing.

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Outdoor Cleanup Tasks You Absolutely Must Do in the Fall

Outdoor Cleanup Tasks You Absolutely Must Do in the Fall

Each year when fall rolls around and the leaves start to turn, it’s time to start preparing your yard for the winter ahead. Read on for the most important tasks you need to take care of this season.

Prune Your Trees

Fall is the time to trim back your trees to get them ready to flourish in the spring. Watch out for any signs of boring insects, which leave a striped pattern in the wood. If you find any, be sure to trim away these sections to prevent them from eating farther into your trees. If you plan on adding any new landscaping, start planning it out now.

Rake Up the Leaves

This quintessential fall activity is as important as it gets. You want to make sure that you get rid of all the dead leaves so that they don’t begin to rot, which could harm your lawn, leaving it sparse and bare when spring comes back around. Make this maintenance task fun for the whole family by allowing your kids to jump into the piles of leaves. Sure, the job may take a bit longer this way, but your little ones will love it and may even want to lend a helping hand.

Mow, Aerate and Reseed Your Lawn

To get your lawn ready for winter, start by mowing it down short and neat. Then aerate the ground to loosen up the soil. When you reseed and fertilize, the aerated soil will be better able to absorb the necessary nutrients for a healthy regrowth once it thaws out. It’ll come back looking lush and green in the spring.

Get Your Yard Equipment from Ralph Helm Inc.

Here at Ralph Helm Inc, we offer a wide variety of yard maintenance equipment to help you get through this busy season. Browse through our selection today, and feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions about our equipment. One of our associates will be happy to assist you.

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Top STIHL Power Tools that Every Homeowner Needs to Have

Top STIHL Power Tools that Every Homeowner Needs to Have

High-quality power tools are essential for any homeowner’s arsenal. Here at Ralph Helm Inc., we carry a broad selection of power tools from STIHL, one of the top brands in the industry. Read on for the top STIHL products that should be at the top of your power tools wish list.

Lawn Mower

No home would be complete without a durable and reliable lawn mower. These useful tools help you keep your lawn in top shape throughout the year. With Lithium-Ion models, you no longer need to purchase gasoline to power them, saving you lots of money in the long run. As an added benefit, these rechargeable battery-operated models are safer for the environment as well.

Hedge Trimmer

Your yard is the first thing people see when they visit your home, so you want to keep it looking its best. With hedge trimmers, you can keep your hedges and bushes looking neat and tidy to create the best possible first impression. We offer both corded and gas-powered options to suit your needs and preferences.

Pole Pruner

Pruning is critical to the health and growth of your trees. A pole pruner is a great way to trim and prune your trees without the need for a ladder. Not only is this safer for you, but it also makes the job a lot easier. Simply stand underneath the tree and extend the pole up into the branches to remove them.


A residential blower is crucial to keeping your yard neat and tidy. Say goodbye to the back-breaking work of raking leaves when you have a blower to do the hard work for you. This important task will be a breeze, saving you both time and effort.

Get Everything You Need at Ralph Helm Inc.

We are proud to carry STIHL products because of their high quality and reliability. Browse through our selection today to find everything you need to complete your power tool collection.

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Winter is Coming: Time to Get a Snow Blower

Winter will be here before you know it, and with it can come some pretty extreme conditions. Having the right tools available can mean the difference between getting out of your driveway safely and ending up flat on your back for a few weeks after a vigorous snow shoveling session. Why go through all that pain and suffering when a snow blower can cut your work time more than in half and protect your health at the same time?

Types of Snow Blowers

The type of snow blowers that you need really depends on your particular circumstance. If your home has a short, straight and relatively-level driveway area, then a single-stage electric snow blower might be just the right size. However, if you’re looking at a larger area, a single-stage gas snow blower might be a better option.

The big, bad beast of a snow blower is the two-stage gas snow blower. Whether you’re going for the stand-on serious snow blower or the walk behind from Toro, you can be sure that you’re getting a machine that will last you for many years.


If you already have a snow blower but haven’t dusted it off in a year, it is definitely time to consider some basic maintenance. Keep extras of important parts such as belts, shear pins and fuel stabilizer on hand so you don’t find yourself with a useless hunk of metal that won’t start or run. Ralph Helm Lawn Equipment Center can help ensure that you get the right maintenance for your equipment quickly and easily, and it’s always at a great price.

Whether you’re looking for the best deals on a new snow blower or trying to get some maintenance completed on your current machine, Ralph Helm Lawn Equipment Center will provide you with the trusted service, parts and equipment that will keep you moving and grooving all winter long no matter how bad the weather gets!

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Keep Your Family Safe Around the Backyard Fire Pit

Keep Your Family Safe Around the Backyard Fire Pit

Bonding with friends and family while you enjoy a well-cooked and crispy hot dog or sweet, ooey-gooey melted marshmallow is even more fun on crisp fall nights when your backyard fire pit is providing the fuel. However, all those good times could come to a quick end if you have an accident around fire. What started out as some fall fun can rapidly turn into a dangerous situation, especially with kids around.

How can you be sure you’re staying safe while you enjoy the beauty of the outdoors around your fire pit? These tips will keep you out of the emergency room and out in the yard enjoying time with your friends and family.

Get the Right Tools for the Job

Instead of poking your fire with a stick, be sure you get the correct metal tools such as a fire poker and a set of tongs. This doesn’t have to be a big investment, but using the right tools ensures that you’re staying safe.

Fence it Off

When there are children around, you want to keep them as far away from the fire as possible. Adding a tall metal screen around your fire pit can keep little ones away from the open flame, but you’ll want to keep the fence low enough that adults can still tend the fire effectively. Don’t forget that even the metal fence will be too hot for little fingers!

(Don’t) Burn Down the House

Having fire pits with grass or other flammable materials close by means you’ll need to invest in a good fire extinguisher. Whether your fire extinguisher is the traditional red metal can or looks more like several 5-gallon buckets of sand, you need to ensure that you can put out any sparks that head out of the fire pit area before they get out of control. Wetting down the space around the fire pit certainly helps!

We hope you enjoyed these quick tips for staying safe around your fire pit! When you need to clean up your outdoors, keep Ralph Helm Inc Lawn Equipment Center in mind. We offer new equipment, parts and service for all your major landscaping and maintenance needs.

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Get Ready for Fall With a DIY Fire Pit

Ahhhh, nothing is better than spending long fall evenings enjoying a gorgeous sunset and cooler weather with friends and family in your backyard. Oh, wait! It could get better … if you had your very own fire pit.

Far from being an expensive option, DIY fire pits are actually quite affordable and a relatively easy project for anyone to complete. Check out our quick guide and you’ll be roasting marshmallows over your own backyard fire pit in no time.

Getting Set

These instructions are for a fire pit with a 3-foot interior diameter that sits about 2 feet tall, but you can modify the instructions to fit your needs. Sink a length of rebar in the center of your fire pit, then use a 2.5-foot string and some spray paint to mark a circle. Dig out the entire area about 6 inches deep, then mark a second circle 12 inches inside the first. This will be the walls of your fire pit. Mix concrete and lay it in the foundation area between the two circles and allow it to dry for 24 hours.

Raising the Walls

Once the foundation is dry, layer approximately 2 inches of mortar and then lay stones, working in small sections all the way around. Build the outer wall using natural stones, and use fire stones for the inner wall. As you go, fill in any gaps with wet mortar while scraping away the excess. Stagger seams to make the walls more stable and to provide a more finished look to your project.

Once you have your fire pit the height that you would like, add approximately an inch of mortar and then capstones to the top that will lie flat and give you an even surface around the circumference of the fire pit. And voila! You have your very own fire pit.

Need help pulling together tools for this project or any other fun DIY projects this fall? Contact Ralph Helm Inc. Lawn Equipment Center for all your home improvement needs. We have the name brand equipment that you need to make your life easier.

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Spiffy Up Your Yard with Our End-of-Summer Maintenance Tasks

Spiffy Up Your Yard with Our End-of-Summer Maintenance Tasks

Summertime is fun time, and no one wants to spend their beautiful, long afternoons slaving away in the yard! However, when summer starts melting into fall, maintenance tasks are suddenly calling your name. Quickly and easily take back control of your wild yard with our end-of-summer maintenance checklist.

Clean and Protect Your Deck

Falling leaves and fruit from the previous year can have a real impact on your deck, and don’t even get us started on the summer sun! Get your deck back in order by checking for loose fittings and joints and checking the overall stability of your deck. Deck furniture scooting across the surface can negatively impact your finish, so see if you need to add a fresh layer of sealant to protect your deck before the harsh winter months.

Strip that Old Weather Stripping

Check around all your doors and windows, pulling off old or cracked weather stripping and replacing it with fresh, new sealant. If you love having bugs in your home or particularly enjoy an energy-stealing draft, give this step a pass. Or not.

Clean and Inspect Windows

Windows are one of the main places in your home that you’ll lose energy in the winter, so you want to be particularly careful that your windows are cool weather ready. Whether you’re inspecting windows yourself or asking a professional for their advice, it’s always in your best interests to keep your windows well-insulated.

Service Your Tools

Keeping your yard in picture-perfect condition is an unattainable goal unless you have the right tools for the job. Get ready to kick off cleanup season by servicing your leaf blowers, lawn mower or getting your chainsaw serviced. Ralph Helm, Inc. Lawn Equipment Center offers you the services that you need to make your yard work and life easier. Looking for new equipment and parts? We’ve got you covered there as well! Check out our Factory Promotions today to get the best options for your yard.

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