Prepare the ground under your steppingstones to prevent cracks
Install steppingstones in garden beds where you frequently need to walk. The stones come in a wide variety of materials, and choose a style that complements your house, plant materials and other hardscape elements in your yard.
Dig the steppingstones in slightly, and use torpedo sand to level and set into place. The sand will help to keep the stones from shifting. Small steppingstones will be more difficult to stabilize once in the ground. Steppingstones that are thin (less than one-half inch) will be lighter and easier to work with but much easier to crack during installation or if the base under them is not well prepared or uneven.
• It is a good idea to disconnect garden hoses from outdoor spigots and faucets when night temperatures begin to drop below freezing. 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 by 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 open the faucets to drain out any remaining water. You should then tighten the faucets. It is important to keep water out of exterior pipe systems 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. They are essentially a standard hose spigot 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 the outside, but the connection and valve that controls the water supply is inside, where it's warmer and protected from freezing. A properly installed frost-free faucet will have a slight downward pitch toward the spigot so 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 or not your faucets are indeed frost-free and installed properly, then it is a good idea have your plumber inspect them to avoid any problems.
• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.