If you are wondering where you will find me this weekend…I’ll be in my garden. I love my garden in the fall. Everything is growing so nicely. The colours change. However, I know the the cooler weather brings frost and frost brings soggy, rotting plants. So, it is important to take a little time in the fall to ready the garden for a successful growing season…next year. In Canada, where we live in Toronto, our plants are almost done for the year. In mid-November the weather typically gets quite cold, snow falls in January and the garden won’t come back to life until April or May. That is a long, long off season. To ready our garden for it’s 5-6 month nap I’ve put together some helpful tips for getting the garden ready for winter.
Know Your Aesthetic
During the summer it is easy to predict what your garden will look like. You plant pink flowers with purple, you plant tall plants behind short plants, etc. However, in the winter the garden completely changes and everything looks different. It’s important to think about what you like to look out at in the winter…the snow will not always be covering the garden. If you don’t like the idea of looking out at barren mud, then lay down mulch and leave some ornamental plants (grasses, echinacea, rudbeckia) standing until the spring thaw. If you like a neat and tidy garden, clean up everything and cover the mud with a layer of mulch. I like to leave as many ornamental plants alone as possible…when the snow falls these plants look spectacular.
If It Pops Out, Pop It Out
I don’t leave everything in the garden over the winter. If I give a plant a light pull and the leaves come out, then I take those leaves out. This is usually the case for irises, day lilies and hostas. Plants with long leaves, that are only going to get soggy, will usually slip right out in the fall.
Tie it up what stays behind
Plants with long leaves, that don’t want to pull out easily, can be tied up for the winter. Instead of leaving the leaves to rot, bundle the leaves up and tie the plant to itself. This was my mother’s favourite winter gardening tip. You can always pull them out in the spring.
Veggies Be Gone
Empty the vegetable garden. Most vegetables are annuals…they will not come back next year…in our climate anyway. It is important to completely clear out a vegetable patch. If you leave vegetables in the garden over the winter, pests may burrow into the soil and re-emerge next growing season – bigger and stronger than the year before. Plus, removing everything make rotating the crops easier for the next growing season.
Mulch it Up
Fallen leaves make great mulch for winter garden beds. Shredded leaves make a better mulch, as full leaves can create more of a wet mat on the garden floor, blocking rain from reaching the soil below. Simply run your lawn mower over the fallen leaves and they will be shredded and make an ideal mulch material. Think about your last walk in the park…leaves line the forest floor…natural garden mulch.
Black Out the Weeds
Put your garden to work in the winter months. Every spring I head out to my vegetable patch and it is filled with tiny weeds, that have germinated and started growing with the first signs of light and warmth in the yard. This year I am taking matters into my own hands and I am blacking out the weeds. To keep weeds out of the garden take these 3 steps; clear out all plants, lay down 1/4″ of newspaper over entire garden bed, apply layer of mulch on top of newspaper. The thick pile of newspaper will block all light out of the garden. Plants need light to grow. Thus, without any light the weeds will not grow. This is a great way to control invaisive species too. The winter is the perfect time to take on this black out task.
Check The Grading
If you have gardens that run along the foundation of your home, it is important that you check the grading of your garden before the first snowfall. Over the summer the garden bed soil erodes and can make low points along your house. Be sure to keep your soil sloping away from your house, so that the snow doesn’t pile up along your house and melt into your foundation. It is amazing what tremendous damage water can do to a home.
To Wrap or Not to Wrap
I remember hearing a gardening expert, I can’t remember who it was, once reply to the age old question “Should I wrap my shrub/tree/plant to protect it in the winter?” The reply that was given was pretty brilliant. The expert said that if the shrub/tree/plant is growing in the correct location in the yard and the correct climate zone for the plant, then it shouldn’t need to any protection…it should be fine. I have to say I agree with the expert. If you are growing plants that are native to your region they should be fine…they are “built” for your climate zone. Now, that being said, I have also heard experts extoll the virtues of wrapping some plants. So, my advice is to go on a plant-by-plant basis. Contact your local garden centre and chat with an expert if you are really concerned about a particular shrub. It never hurts to ask.
Don’t be Afraid to Plant
The fall is a good time to do some planting. Don’t be afraid to plant perennials, trees and shrubs. Planting can be done up until the ground is frozen. Planting in the fall gives your tree a head start for next spring.
Garlic and Bulbs
Now is the time for planting spring bulbs and garlic bulbs. To reap the benefit of lovely spring tulips, hyacinths and daffodils you have to get those bulbs in the ground right now. And, learn from our mistake and plant garlic now as well…you’ll have a lovely crop next season.
Think of the Animals
Every fall we leave some plants standing in our garden. Birds and squirrels can benefit from eating flower seeds and making bedding from plants foliage. However, it is important to be certain that you aren’t leaving behind the perfect homes for skunks, raccoons and mice. Take a look under the deck and inside storage sheds. If a small animal can get inside – they will.
Take Care of The Tools
You don’t need a lot of tools to be a successful gardener. However, it is important to take good care of the ones you have. At the end of the growing season be sure to clean off your clippers with rubbing alcohol..this kills off any lingering bacteria. Keep gardening tools cleaned, organized and ready to go for next spring.
Plan, Plan and Plan
Garden planning is so critical. Take a look at your garden. What was successful and what wasn’t. I know that I have some over crowding in my front garden…next year I have to divide up some plants. Now is the time to reflect back on the growing season that was and get ready for the growing season that will be.
What tips can you share? I would love to hear your gardening advice…I find fellow gardeners are the best source of information.