There’s nothing more inviting than a real wood deck.

Think about it: The feel of it as you run your hand along the railing. The sound of it beneath your feet. The texture and color that just can’t be imitated. The aroma of fresh-cut pine the day it was installed.

Now fast-forward to today. Your deck has gone through a long, hot summer of fun and games, and it’s time to give it a break. After all, school buses are careening through the neighborhood and the scent of pumpkin (or least pumpkin-spiced lattes) is in the air.

Is your wood deck ready for winter?

fall deck prep

If you’re not sure, no worries. Here’s how to get up to speed to give your deck the long winter nap it deserves — and to keep it protected from the elements so it’s ready to party along with your family again come spring.

1. Clean It Up

Remember that ketchup blob from the great hot dog drop of 2017? Your deck does. Now’s the time to scrub away any unsightly stains so they don’t get ground into the wood over winter. No need to go overboard with a pressure washer, which can gouge bits out of your wood. Instead, use a commercial deck wash attached to your regular hose, or try a homemade version made of OxyClean and dish soap to get the job done right.

2. Fix It Up

Fall is also a good time to inspect your deck for loose boards before winter. Give your deck a good once-over to see if there are any repairs to make. If your deck is made of Southern Yellow Pine, you probably don’t need to worry about popped nails, since its density holds fasteners tight.

3. Assess the Finish

Over time, paint, stain and clear poly finishes can take a real beating from the weather. These protective coverings provide crucial protection for your wood, though, and you don’t want to send your deck into winter without a good overcoat. If your finish is chipping, peeling or otherwise less attractive than it used to be, take a sunny weekend to refinish your deck.

4. Keep It Snow-Free

Whether you get an inch or a blizzard’s worth of white stuff, make shoveling your deck a priority this winter. Removing snow ASAP will keep your deck nice and dry, which will reduce the odds that your boards absorb water and will help protect that fresh coat of paint or stain you just applied.

With a little bit of elbow grease now, your wood deck will come through the winter looking its best when the weather warms up again.