Getting the Garden Ready for Winter


Dianne Westlake

Autumn is that glorious season when Mother Nature puts on her vivid display of colour, one last thrill before winter takes us into its icy grip. As temperatures decrease, growth slows, signifying the beginning of fall cleanup time in the garden.

Lift tender tuberose begonias, cannas and dahlias after the first frost. Dig carefully and remove the foliage leaving a stalk of four to six inches. Clean soil from the tuber and allow them to dry overnight in a protected area. Place in a cardboard box with newspapers between the layers and store in a cold, dry area. Check monthly to ensure that they are sound. If rot occurs, cut away the affected areas and repack in fresh paper.

Most perennials do not need to be cut back. Leave ornamental grasses, Sedum and Echinacea to add winter interest and provide food and protection for the birds. The possibility of self-seeding is usually outweighed by the benefits. In addition, the leaves will help to trap snow that provides additional protection for the plant.

Cut back hostas to reduce potential sites where slugs can over-winter. True lilies should also be cut down and any mulch removed in an attempt to control the lily beetle.

The area around rose bushes should be cleared of all debris to reduce the potential of over-wintering diseases and pests. To protect tender roses, add eight to ten inches of compost of soil after the soil freezes to discourage mice from eating the buds. Do not scrape the soil from between the bushes because you can injure the roots. A local grower has suggested that the plants be covered with a tarp or white greenhouse plastic after applying the mulch. Provide winter protection for all roses, no matter how hardy they are, during the first two winters after planting.

Be aware of the amount of rainfall throughout the season and, if needed, continue to water coniferous trees and shrubs until the ground freezes. Wrap shrubs that are prone to snow load damage. To provide a windbreak for tender shrubs put the posts into the ground now and add burlap at a later time. Do not allow the material to touch the plant and do not use plastic.

Fall is a perfect time to aerate, over-seed and fertilize your lawn. To help to prevent snow mould cut grass shorter.

Ponds and water features need to be winterized. Pumps should be cleaned and stored in a warm place. Keep ponds clear of fallen leaves, which will rot over the winter, creating gases and contaminants. If fish are kept in the pond over the winter, add a bubbler or heater to maintain an open area in the ice.

Annuals should be removed. Cut the tops off leaving the root ball intact particularly if there is a slope. This will help to stabilize the soil and prevent erosion while providing organic material.

Take out the dead vegetable plants. Bury them or put them into the compost and turn over the vegetable garden.

Leaves can be bagged and put out for collection by the city, composted at home or used as mulch. To encourage decomposition over the winter, chop using a lawn mower with a mulching blade or a leaf shredder. A thick mulch of leaves will protect your perennials when fluctuating temperatures in early spring cause plants to heave out of the ground.

Take in garden ornaments and ceramic or clay pots that will not withstand the effects of the freeze thaw cycles and will be damaged or break if left unprotected. If you plan on filling your pots with fall or winter foliage be sure to use plastic, metal or fiberglass. Clean and store your tools and hoses.