Preparing Your Garden for Winter

Text by Lori Broadfoot

Before setting about the task of cleaning up your garden for its long winter rest, have a good look around to remind yourself of what worked and what didn’t in the past growing season. Was the lawn a little patchy in areas and needs some aeration? Did some plants grow a little too vigorously and choke each other out? And you may want to note the success of growing a gloriously scented flower near a favourite deck chair.

Once you have a few notes and plans for next year, it’s time to begin the task of putting the garden to bed.

While harvesting garden produce you may also want to collect seeds from some easy-to-grow varieties of flowers, vegetables and herbs for planting next year. Some specimens that lend themselves to seed collection are marigolds, cornflowers, calendula, violas, nasturtiums, lettuce, radishes, peas, beans, corn, dill, cilantro, and many other herbs. For ornamental plants and herbs, cut off the flower heads whenever a plant ‘goes to seed’. Leave a few peas and beans on the stalk or vine to become overripe and dry. The seeds from melons, squash, cucumbers and tomatoes need to be cleaned of pulp before saving. Ensure all seeds are thoroughly dry before storing, by keeping them in paper bags for a couple of weeks, and then transfer to moisture tight containers or jars. Label the containers with name and date, some seeds will stay viable for years.

Not all foliage, stocks and spent flowers need to be removed before the snow flies. Clean out and cut back only the rotted or matted down foliage that may leave plants vulnerable to disease in the damp of spring. Empty dry stalks and dried flower heads will not only add interest to a snow-filled vista, they will also trap snow cover – good for insulating and moisturizing plants – and can become homes to beneficial insects like lady bugs when freezing temperatures arrive.

Even in early autumn there is still time to plant, or divide and reposition perennial plants, especially those that bloom between early spring and late June. These hardy specimens will continue to grow, although at a much slower rate, for several weeks. If it is a dry autumn be sure to hand water them well. Even though these plants may be long past flowering, they are still storing up resources for next year.

Wait till after a couple of frosts to add mulch around all perennials. This gives the plants an opportunity to feel the chill in the ground so they will be spurred into dormancy. You can toss a bunch of newly raked leaves or matured compost, at a depth of about two or three inches, around the base of each plant. This ‘winter blanket’ can be worked into the dirt, adding nutrients to the soil in the spring.

Tender perennials such as roses can be insulated with a six to eight inch layer of leaves.

Take special care to remove annual weeds from your lawn and garden now, especially the mature flower heads. Don’t compost the seed heads as they may survive the winter, so it’s safest to throw them away.

Mid-September is the time to band trees with tanglefoot to prevent canker worm infestation. The bands and the sticky bug-snagging substance can be attached to tree trunks anytime after the September long weekend, and should be removed by the May long weekend the following spring. There is also a spring cankerworm moth, so if the stickiness of the tanglefoot has been reduced over winter, more can be applied to the band in very early spring.

Keep mowing your lawn until it stops growing for the season. The grass should be trimmed a little shorter, to 1.5 inch height before winter. The snow can mat down longer grass, which may cause problems with snow mold or powdery mildew in the spring.

The trunks of young trees should be wrapped at the base with either a plastic collar or hardware cloth to prevent damage from rodents. Remember to allow for the depth of snow when positioning the barrier, and don’t wrap it too tightly.

Drain the garden hose, store indoors, and shut off the outside water tap from its source.

Clean all garden tools and wipe them with a little light oil before storing them for winter.

The final step in autumn garden maintenance will be to find a comfy quilt. This will help keep you warm when you’re indoors, perusing the seed catalogues that will arrive in the mail very shortly, and making plans for spring.

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