It’s inevitable but always a bit of a shock when it happens: the slow shift from hot summer days to cool fall nights. From long, lazy days to early sunsets, crisp mornings, frost, frozen ground and, of course, snow. Ensuring lawns and gardens stay in tip-top shape through the long, hard, cold months may be a bit of a challenge. But never fear, there are lots of tips and tricks from the experts who know the best ways to keep your yard safe and fabulous for next year’s thaw.
There’s no shortage of fall chores to keep you busy, including protecting roses from frost, giving perennials some TLC for winter, and preparing trees and shrubs for the harsh weather. By spending a little time sprucing up the lawn or weeding the perennial garden, you can ensure a healthier start to next year’s garden season.
According to Catherine Bulow of Bulow’s Garden Centre in Oakville, one of the most important things to do — and something many people forget — is to protect the fragile bark of your ornamental trees. “Rabbits and mice can pretty much kill a tree over the winter,” she says. “They like to eat the bark and do a lot of damage.” She suggests a protective spiral wrap that will keep everything safe and sound until spring arrives. “Also, burlap wrapping tender perennials offers great protection, and put lots of extra mulch and leaves around,” she says.
Bulow also strongly advises against turning off sprinklers and underground watering systems too early in the season. “You want to keep the soil and the plants as moist as possible over the long winter months. Most people turn their water off too early, but you want to keep everything well hydrated. The ground is frozen for a long time.” She also suggests watering your plants and garden earlier in the spring, starting in April, instead of May when things start to heat up a little, especially if the winter is particularly dry.
Lastly, if you’re planting new evergreens before the snow flies, be sure to wrap them securely so they can survive the harsh upcoming weather. “Young, new trees need extra protection for their first winter,” she says. “You want to keep them safe from sun, wind, and snow!”
When it comes to getting your vegetable garden winter-ready, remove all plant debris after the veggies are gathered. While many pests dig into the soil for the long winter haul, others will shelter under leaf litter. Pull spent vegetable plants and weeds to eliminate places where pests and diseases can hide, and dispose of plant debris with yard waste to be composted at the local landfill.
“Be sure to rake up excess leaves and cut back perennials,” say the experts at Cudmores Garden Centre in Oakville. “Cut grass shorter for the season, compost, and spread manure around flower and garden beds.” Also, “Perennials come back, but you need to pull annuals and turn them into compost. Tropicals come inside for the winter and cold months before they go back outside in the warm weather, but you don’t have to bring them inside until Thanksgiving.”
If you don’t want to bag the leaves you rake, consider shredding them with a mower to create a one to two-inch-thick layer of chopped leaves on top of the grass. The earthworms in the lawn will love it, and the leaves will eventually break down, adding nutrients to the soil. For any leaves you do collect, compost them with other organic matter, such as fresh grass clippings, old vegetable and flower plants, and kitchen scraps.
As for basic lawn care, continue to mow the lawn high (two to three inches for most grasses) to encourage good root growth, fertilize and then reseed thin spots in the lawn, and aerate compacted areas with aeration sandals or a rented aerator machine. Make sure to keep the lawn well-watered throughout the fall season if the weather
Many of us may not like winter all that much, especially when it bleeds into the spring season. With these helpful tips to keep our gardens beautiful, healthy, and strong, our lawns, shrubs, and flowers, will be ready to thrive when the warm weather finally comes our way.
by Allison Dempsey
Cudmore’s Garden Centre, Oakville
Bulow Gardens Centre, Oakville