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Putting Your Garden to Bed for the Winter (Posted On: Monday, September 18, 2006)

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To pull or not to pull: to cut back or not to cut back: to prune or not to prune....WHAT IS A GARDENER TO DO?? These are a few of the queries professional gardeners get asked at the end of every gardening season.

There are no hard and fast rules, but some guidelines can help you decide what you can do to ready your garden for the winter months ahead. Your own time budget will dictate how much you can get done this fall.

Soil: The best time for soil amendment is in the fall. Compost or triple mix spread over the garden helps build healthy soils. Generally, 2" of compost for your perennial bed and 4" for trees and shrubs is recommended. You can top-dress your lawn with compost at this time too. Remember not to put the compost over top of the crowns of the perennials and not up on the trunks of the trees. Compost retains moisture and therefore may rot the perennials and the trunks of trees. The compost can be dug into the soil or left to act as mulch over the winter. Wait until we have had some good cold weather to put down the compost as the mice and voles will think this is a lovely warm place to build their winter nests!

Plants: To pull or not to pull?...the annuals that is. Make this decision based on which annuals you planted. Impatiens go mushy after the first frost so pull them out. Kales and cabbages are plants you want to take out before the spring because they stink as they decay. Chrysanthemums, however, planted late in the season for fall colour are often hardy and will comeback in the following spring and bloom again in the fall.

To cut or not to cut? All diseased foliage should be removed and discarded (not in the compost). This helps reduce diseases for next year. If you live in the country (or in town and have a mouse problem) it is a good idea to cut down the perennials in the garden. This discourages small rodents by eliminating hiding places and food sources. Daylilies (hemerocallis), Peonies and Hostas all get flattened over the winter and so it is a good idea to cut them down in the fall. On the other hand, some perennials such as Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susans) and Echinacea (Purple cone flower) are good seed sources for the birds. They also offer winter interest, as do ornamental grasses.

To prune or not to prune? First determine if your shrub are spring or summer flowering. Spring flowering shrubs have already set their flower buds for the coming so pruning them now will cut off next years flowers. Please refer to for a list of spring and summer flowering shrubs.

Evergreens such as juniper, yews (Taxus), and cedars (Thuja) can be pruned late September- early October. Upright junipers and cedars benefit from being tied up with string or nylon netting to prevent them from ‘splaying’ out from heavy snow and ice loads.

Tulips or other small bulbs such as Scilla, Chionidoxa, and Crocus can be planted as long as you can dig in the soil. Daffodils need to be in the ground long enough to set roots before it gets too cold. Covering all newly planted bulbs with a good layer of mulch will help insulate them against the cold.

Some not so hardy perennials might need a good layer of mulch on their roots too. Place some evergreen boughs on top for added protection. Hilling up your hybrid tea roses is another “ bedtime” task for the garden. Shrub roses are hardy and need no further attention. Their hips are a winter attraction, food for the birds and make good jam and tea for we humans.

Getting your garden ready for bed means making sure your plants are all tucked in and have a nice cover of compost.

Teresa Matamoros
BSc, ODH, ISA Certified Arborist
Garden Holistics Inc.
285 Clark St. PO Box 244
Thornbury, ON
N0H 2P0



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