Getting the Garden Ready for Winter

Dianne and Gary Westlake

The long, hot, dry summer has passed and now we begin our preparation for the winter season. Maybe the weather will cooperate and we will have time to prepare our gardens for the deep freeze.

At this time of year, people have problems deciding what to cut down and what to leave up until spring. First there shall be no more pruning of shrubs unless your shrubs are about to trip the mailman or fall on your dog. When you prune, the shrub responds by putting on new growth which will be tender through the winter and will stress the plant.

We like to leave some plants standing to provide winter interest. Ornamental grasses and sedums provide food for the birds, move with the wind and collect snow. You can leave up rudbeckia and echinacea up but keep in mind that you might get babies in the spring.

Hostas are starting to get their fall colour but, before the snow flies, it is wise to remove their leaves. This will help to reduce the snail and slug population. To reduce the number of lily leaf beetles, it is also a good idea to clean the area around your true lilies. If you carefully sanitize the area around any plant that has shown signs of disease during the growing season you might have less trouble next year. Removing all rose leaves will help to reduce future black spot infestation.

Some cuttings can be saved to be used in dried arrangements. Lunaria (money plant) or the seed pods of japanese iris are but two examples and they can be used in their natural colour or spray painted. Sedums dried and sprayed red work great in Christmas decorations.

Leaves are falling from the trees after doing their summer work and now is the time to move on to their next function - returning nutrients to the soil. It is best not to use large leaves, like those of the norway maple, whole because they will form a thick mat. Leaving whole leaves on the lawn can smother the grass or cause disease problems in the spring. It is better to use the lawn mower to chop them and leave some of them on the grass to breakdown to feed the worms and improve the soil. They can also be placed on your garden beds to protect the roots of your perennials and shrubs over the winter and if you have any extras, they can be stored for future use. We have a large bin we call our “OK Leaf Coral”. This pile of partially decayed leaves is valuable material in the garden.

The lawn could use some attention this time of year. Mowing is not a natural situation for grass. It usually grows until it has a chance to seed and replenish itself. But we cut it off before it has a chance so that it only can reproduce itself by horizontal growth. You can provide the missing seed by overseeding at this time of year. The amount of dew is increasing and will help provide sufficient moisture needed for germination. Fertilizing the lawn can be done later.

This year, we planted calla lilies in a bed near our pond and they did very well. The foliage was great, the flowers long lasting and we expect that the bulbs are significant. When the tops get hit by frost, we will dig them up, shake off any soil, allow them to dry for a few days and then store them in a cool dry place over the winter. Cannas, dahlias and begonias are treated the same way. Don't forget to inspect them regularly and discard any that are soft or mouldy.

Of course this is the time of year to plant spring flowering bulbs. As long as the soil is workable, it is not too late so try some of those bargain bulbs.

We try to empty your composter before freeze up to make room for the kitchen scraps that will accumulate over the winter. If the material is not completely broken down, you can still add it to the beds and it will continue to decay over the winter. Either mix it in the top layer of soil or cover with a layer of leaves.

Renovate perennial beds. Splitting overgrown plants will save time and effort in the spring. It is not too late to plant trees, shrubs and perennials.

This is an ideal time to build new flower beds. Lay cardboard of multiple layers of newspaper directly on the grass, layer on top soil and then compost. Water well. The new bed will be ready to plant in the spring.

Water all evergreens, shrubs and new trees regularly until the ground freezes and protect young trees from rodents. A barrier using wire mesh or a plastic trunk wrap will help to keep those rabbits from nibbling tender bark and damaging your precious plantings.

Winterize the pond. Protect your fish by removing leaves that will break down and produce potentially lethal gases. Clean and store your pump.

After all of the outdoor work is done, clean and store your tools, hoses and other garden equipment and ornaments for the winter. Time to start planning for next year!