Yesterday we spent the day basking in 15°C sunshine. Today we woke up to a brisk 3°C. This is what late autumn is like in Toronto. One day it is glorious and the next day there is frost on the ground. It is that time of year again. It is time to prepare your home garden for winter.
Part of the responsibility of taking on gardening is a commitment to close up the garden in late fall. We have been enjoying our veggies fresh from the garden and watching the flowers bloom all growing season long. If we want to enjoy the healthy return of our garden in the spring – we have to do a little work right now. Never fear, there isn’t as much to do as you might think. The best part of winter clean-up is that kids can do all of these tasks. Yep, kids love raking and pulling out weeds. Pick a day when the whole family is available and get your hands dirty in the garden together.
Rake the leaves – This might seem obvious, but it is important. Leaves that are left in the garden over winter can lead to mold and mildew and they can provide shelter for insects and pests. (get some help from your four-legged friend)
Pull annuals – Annuals are plants that do not return for a second growing season. Unfortunately, the frost will turn most summertime annual brown and black. If you really loved how well your annuals performed, harvest some seeds and store them to be propagated in the spring.
Harvest remaining veggies and fruit – The vegetable patch has provided your family with plenty of food all spring and summer, now is the time to harvest any remaining edibles. The fall is harvest time and a great time to preserve the food you have grown. Whether it is drying herbs or making tomato sauce and pickles. Some vegetables are late fall hardy, broccoli, kale and cabbage, but even these plants need to be pulled before the snow falls.
Clean out vegetable garden beds completely – Clean out the vegetable patch and start from scratch next season. When planning for the spring be sure to rotate the vegetables. Rotating where vegetables are planted is important to avoid the proliferation of pests and diseases.
Clear out areas where animals can hide out for the winter – While I love animals, I don’t want rodents living in my backyard all winter. Check your property for wood piles, leaf piles, and pots or containers that small animals could find shelter in.
Perennials to prune – Which plants will benefit from a fall haircut? Day Lilies, iris, bee balm, clematis, columbine, peonies, sunflower, phlox – plants that are prone to mildew should be pruned in the fall
Divide the love – Fall is the perfect time to divide spring bloomers. Divide and move perennials so they are healthy and ready for the spring show.
One final weeding – Every weed you pull in the fall is one less you have to pull in the spring.
Black out the garden – For particularly overgrown areas of the garden, now is the time to “blackout” the overgrowth and aggressive plants. Pull unwanted plants, cover the area with black landscape cloth and secure the cloth in place with mulch. Leave the soil blacked out until spring, thus starving the aggressive plant of light all fall and winter. We had to do this last year to control our Japanese anemone.
Plant spring bulbs – This is something I only started doing last fall – planting spring bulbs. It is so lovely to see those early bloomers peeking out of the soil after the long cold winter.
Leave some plants standing – Don’t be afraid to leave some plants standing in the garden. Plants like ornamental grasses, echinacea, rudbeckia, sedum and mums will provide food for birds and beauty to your winter garden
Know your plants – Plants like roses and geraniums need special attention in the fall – check with your local nursery to find out how to best prepare these plants for the winter.
Water Garden one last time – Winter is a dry and windy season, be sure to water trees and shrubs one final time.
Put away the hose – When all the watering is done, put away the hose and turn off the water at the source. Avoid frozen and burst pipes.
Clean garden tools – Clean garden tools of any dirt, before storing oil tool blades with vegetable oil. Store tools safely and properly – it’s time to pull out the snow shovel.
It might seem like a long “to-do” list, but I guarantee that the work that is done in the fall will result in a healthy and beautiful growing season ahead. Take a look around your fall garden, are there spots where you would like to see more interesting plants? Do the kids have big plans for the garden? Grab a notebook and start the planning. Gardening is a 4 season activity – what would your family like to see in the garden next fall and winter?
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