I love my job. But there are aspects of it that I enjoy less than others. High on the list of least favourite things to do is preparing the garden for winter. The weather is chilly and often rainy, the work is less than exciting and most of all, unlike spring tasks, there is no immediate gratification.
But in autumns past, when I have given in to my laziness, I pay for it in the spring. Perrenials and shrubs can suffer, disease can spread and I’m left with a big wet mucky mess to clean up. In order to make it seem less daunting, I have come up with five simple things we can do to get our gardens ready. So get those rubber boots on!
1. Remove most annual plants and cut down some perennials. I say some and not all because the birds will thank you if you leave a few plants with edible seed heads such as echinacea, rudbekia, sunflowers and zinnias to feed on. They also look pretty in the snow. For others, pull them out by their roots. Remove any leaves infected with rust, powdery mildew or black spot from the ground so the spores don’t overwinter in the soil. Be sure not to compost plants or leaves that appear diseased or buggy.
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2. Cut back dead branches on your shrubs. But hold off on pruning roses until spring.
3. Remove leaves from your lawn. If they’re not infected with tar spot (seen as black spots), they can be put around plants to act as a winter mulch. In early spring before new growth occurs, remove what is left of the leaves.
4. Protect roses and other more delicate shrubs from freeze-thaw cycles. Pile leaves up around the base of the plant to a height of a foot or two. Remove them in early spring.
5. Start digging after the first frost. Pull up any tender bulbs and tubers such as canna lilies, dahlias, gladioloi and crocosmia. They can be stored over winter (lots of advice online about this) and replanted in the spring.
Bonus points! Empty, clean and store containers, garden hoses and garden tools. Now is a great time to make note of what worked or didn’t work this year. Try making a simple map of the plants in your garden — I love my map in the early spring when I’m excited to start moving and dividing my garden but all my plants look identically brown and stumpy.
Now we dream as we wait for the seed catalogues to start rolling in — happy gardening!
Sarah Nixon is an urban flower farmer and designer in Toronto. For 12 years her flower company, My Luscious Backyard, has sustainably grown over 100 varieties of cut flowers in a micro-farm comprised of many residential yards in Toronto’s west end. Throughout the growing season My Luscious Backyard creates florals for weddings and events, delivers arrangements to flower subscription recipients across the city and provides flowers to several discerning florists.