Preparing your garden for winter

Autumn has arrived, and winter is fast approaching. Did you move into a new house that has beautiful gardens? If so, there are some garden chores that should be tackled before our cold Ontario winter arrives.

If you have trees on your property, you will be raking up all those falling leaves and likely putting them in those brown ubiquitous yard waste bags. But you can make good use of those leaves instead of sending them to the curb on compost pick up day. Spread a good layer of leaves over your perennial beds, and top with some sturdy pine or spruce boughs to hold them in place. This will act as insulation for your plants during the winter, much like snow does. But as we can’t always rely on a nice consistent blanket of snow in Ontario (especially southern Ontario), using leaves can help make the difference between a lush garden next summer, and a garden with “holes” in it from perennials that have perished from the freezing temperatures. If your trees have any sort of disease, though, it’s best to not use their leaves. A common one that affects maple trees is “tar spot” in which the leaves have black ugly splotches on them, so if you see those spots on your leaves, get rid of them and don’t let them sit around over winter, or you’ll be in for a double-dose of Tar Spot next year! Once you have all those leaves raked and either spread for mulch or disposed of, it’s a good idea to fertilize your lawn one last time in fall, and over seed it as well. This will help provide the basis for a lush lawn next year.

Dig up your tubers and bulbs that will not survive over winter, such as the beautiful tropical cannas and lovely dahlias. Once the temperatures start dipping, and a light frost has turned their leaves black, it’s time to move them inside and safe from Jack Frost. Cut off the foliage to within a few inches of the tubers. Brush off as much soil as possible, then separate them as best you can (the roots will likely be quite entangled from the growing season, and you will find your number of tubers has increased). Store single layer in a cardboard box filled with wood chips in a dark cool spot (basement is best- just avoid storing them in a moisture-filled spot, such as the laundry room). When spring arrives, you can re-plant these flowers, and share the extras that formed during the past summer with friends and family.

You can cut back some perennials to provide a tidier look, but many people choose to leave the seed heads and foliage on their perennials for the birds and wildlife to enjoy throughout the lean winter months. Sedum, for example, produces several stalks of flowers that birds love to take advantage of throughout the year. Leaving your perennials for the birds and animals can provide shelter as well as food. Plus, even though the foliage is “dead” above ground, it can be quite beautiful to look at when snow rests gently on it and ice glistens off of it.

Store your solar lights indoors throughout the winter. The frigid temperatures can harm them if stored in a shed or garage. While you’re putting your solar lights away for the season, think about digging out your Christmas lights. It won’t be long before it’s time to put them up!

Cleaning up your gardens and preparing for winter will give you a head start next spring, and can provide a feeling of contentment. Before long, the warm weather will be here once again, and knowing you’ve begun preparing for it this fall is quite satisfying.