It’s time to protect your garden & yard ready for the winter freeze!
Do you know that old fable ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper’? While the ant was busy preparing for winter, the grasshopper lazed about enjoying the last of the season’s delights.
Come the first snowfall, the ant was ready to hole up for the winter, while the grasshopper was suddenly scrambling to find food. He showed up at the ant’s door and the latter told him to hop away. It’s such a great allegory for life… and gardening!
If you get all the pre-winter tasks done now, your garden will sleep happily through the winter months and be easily restored come Spring. If you want to be a grasshopper? You will have that much more to do in the Spring before you can enjoy your outdoor space.
So what’s on the list?
Preparing Your Lawn
Rake and aerate—Keep raking up those leaves and any other clippings to keep your lawn exposed to light and air, which will help it stay moist and fed.
You can toss the leaves in your composter but before you do, check some for disease or pests that you might not have noticed over the summer! If you have fruit trees, make sure you gather up any fallen / rotting fruit.
Finally, if you can, aerate your lawn to increase the amount of nutrients that are flowing to the roots of your grass.
Fertilize—After you have raked and aerated, it’s a good time to fertilize your lawn. The aeration will allow the fertilizer to get down to the roots and make them stronger and better able to withstand the rigours of winter.
Pick one that is meant for Autumn use, as these contain a high amount of potassium, which makes the grass and roots more resistant to the effects of frost.
Cut—Give your lawn one last trim before the snow flies and pay special attention to corners around your home or hardscapes, or around trees. Tall grasses in these areas are prone to be areas for mice and other small rodents to build their winter homes!
Avoid cutting your lawn too short at this point—2.5 inches is ideal. The right height ensures that your grass strands stay strong and upright, allowing for airflow and moisture, two things your grass needs to avoid rot and disease building up.
Overseed—We talked about this in our August post, but it’s worth repeating: if you want a lawn come Spring that is the envy of all your neighbours, do a little overseeding in the early Autumn. Remember that you need enough time to cut the new shoots a few times before winter hits or they won’t be strong enough to survive the freeze.
Use a high quality overseed topsoil and your grass seeds will be able to build a strong root structure, giving you a strong, healthy lawn in the Spring.
Preparing Your Trees, Plants And Bushes
Dig—Now is the perfect time to dig up any bulbs that don’t fare well in cold, like dahlias or gladiola. You can wrap them in burlap or place them in sand and store them in a dark, dry place. Don’t forget to plant your onion and garlic bulbs, so you can start harvesting next June.
Water—Until the first freeze, keep watering your garden beds, trees and shrubs. Like with people, plants are stressed if they lack moisture. Extra water will help to nourish them well into the winter.
Cut / Remove—As the first frost approaches, it’s time to remove your dead annuals and cut back your perennials and hedges. You don’t want to leave any ‘holes’ in the latter, but they should look bare. Don’t forget to remove the clippings so that airflow isn’t blocked, which can lead to rot.
Mulch—Adding mulch to your garden beds helps to protect perennials and bulbs. The danger isn’t snow or even the cold; the danger for your garden beds is the freeze / thaw / freeze cycles.
Over winter, the mulch will decompose, adding nutrients to the soil. The key is to avoid putting too much mulch, so as to prevent plants from pushing their way out in the Spring. If you’re using leaves, for example, don’t put more than four inches of cover over your plant beds. Roses need special care: insulate them by mounding at least twenty centimetres of top soil at the base of each bush.
Protect—Tie up any young trees or shrubs with stakes and garden twine, to prevent their being damaged by high winds and wet snow or ice.
A couple of layers of burlap will do the trick with cedar trees, so they aren’t impacted by icy winds. Young trees that are less than ten centimetres in diametre, particularly fruit trees, are favoured by small rodents in the winter so protect the bark with plastic protectors, on the base of the trunk.
Preparing Your Water And Other Hardscape Features
Drain—It’s time to drain fountains and other water features to ensure that they don’t get damaged by fluctuating thaw / freeze temperatures. Terra cotta pots are particularly prone to cracking if they have any moisture in them during the thaw / freeze cycles, so be sure they are covered or otherwise untouched by snow and ice.
Sweep and Clean—While technically not a part of your garden, keeping your downspouts and gutters clean of leaves will prevent them from overflowing or backing up. That’s good for your house and your garden! Do you have cracks in between your paving stones? Fill them up so that they don’t fill with water, which then freezes and thaws, damaging the stones in the process. Clean up BBQs—unless you’re hardy enough to use it all winter long, it can be a happy munching space for mice and other small mammals. Clean and store outdoor furniture.
Preparing Your Tools
Sharpen—Sharpen all your shears and other tools; clean your digging tools and have your mower blade sharpened, if it’s not something you want to undertake yourself, before you put all your gardening tools away. Gas powered tools do best if the gas is removed or run until they are out of fuel. And a little oil goes a long way to keep tools in good condition for next Spring, ready for use.
Store—Hoses and watering cans should be drained and stored in a shed or basement. Leaving them outside could leave them open to cracking open after the first freeze, if there is still water in them. Outdoor faucets should also be drained and the water shut off from the inside.
After all that is done, you can sit back with your favourite hot drink and start planning your Spring planting and outdoor projects. It’s a great time of year to check in with your local landscaper / hardscaper to make sure that your projects are ready to start work when the ground thaws!