Autumn has arrived, and when the air gets crisp and the leaves begin to turn, gardeners can expect to enjoy a spectrum of beautiful fall colours. This short ‘season’ usually lasts only week or two here in Alberta, and once it’s passed, many gardeners and homeowners are left with some work to do. From fall planting & pruning to tidying up, here’s your complete guide on prepping your yard for winter.
- Harvest Your Garden. Be sure to harvest any fruits, vegetables and herbs from your garden before a frosty night gets them first! Some root vegetables (like potatoes, garlic, carrots and beets) can be left to mature further if the ground is not freezing, and squashes can be left to ripen on the vine through some light frosts, with proper coverage (use a frost blanket for best results).
- Dig Up or Pull Your Annuals & Empty Pots. Save yourself the hassle in the spring by pulling up your dead annuals now and composting them. You’ll have a blank slate for your new annual flowers in the spring. Ceramic pots are especially important to empty – soil that is left in those pots has potential to retain moisture, freeze, and expand, which may cause the pot to crack.
- Leave Perennial Debris (Or Cut Back to Prevent Pests). Many gardeners choose to leave perennial debris as shelter for beneficial bugs (such as ladybugs), compost, and natural ‘mulch.’ The dead leaves of your perennials will break down throughout the winter, providing a wonderful dose of nutrients and minerals to the soil below In addition, they help to insulate the ground below from unwanted winter-thaw, and allow beneficial insects to hibernate throughout the winter.
However, if you had a pest problem in your garden this year, you may consider cleaning up the debris in that area, to prevent those pests from overwintering until next spring. Most of your perennials will come back from the ground, so once the leaves and stems have died back, you’re safe to trim them right back to the surface. The natural ‘die back’ process pulls energy from the leaves into the roots for winter, so wait until your plant has died back completely before trimming. Note: If you have perennials that have developed ‘woody’ stalks, consider leaving them, to see if the perennial will leaf out on those stalks in the spring.
- Don’t Prune Shrubs or Woody Vines. The pruning of trees & shrubs usually triggers new growth, and you don’t want your plant putting energy into new growth that’s about to get fried by the frost! As a general rule of thumb, don’t prune your trees and shrubs in the fall. Woody vines from Clematis, Virginia Creeper, Engleman Ivies, and other crawlers can be pruned or left. Some woody vines will leaf out again in the spring, and if not, the new growth will follow the path of the old vine.
- Dig Up Your Spring Bulbs & Store. Bulb plants that are planted in the spring (such as Dahlia’s, Daylily’s, Calla Lilies, etc.) are different than fall bulbs, and won’t survive the winter temperatures. Dig them up, dust them off, and store them somewhere cool, dark, and for the winter (like your basement or fridge) – they are best stored in newspaper or a paper bag. Do not allow them to freeze. This allows your bulbs to have a period of dormancy, so they can be replanted in the spring.
- Plant Your Fall Bulbs. Most garlic varieties and spring-blooming bulbs (like tulips, daffodils, crocus, muscari, etc.) need to be planted in the fall, and will survive our cold winters. These bulbs are best planted in mid to late September (or later).
- Transfer Potted Perennials to the Ground. Perennial plants require a period of dormancy and rest through the winter, and need consistent moisture and cold all winter long. While the ground typically stays wet and frozen, perennials that are left in pots are prone to thawing and re-freezing, as well as drying out, during wintertime temperature fluctuations, and are unlikely to survive.
- Do a Final Round of Watering. Any trees, shrubs, or perennials that are newly planted this season are likely still developing their deep root systems. Help them out by giving them one more good drink before the snow flies, so they can stay moisturized going into the winter freeze.
- Mulch Over Your Plants. Use a natural bark mulch to cover your perennials, and the ground around your trees and shrubs to help retain moisture through the winter thaws and winds. You can cover your perennials completely, and pull the mulch back from the stalks in the spring to give them room to grow.
- Consider Tree Wrap for Susceptible Trees. If you have trees that are in an open, sunny area throughout the winter, consider using a horticultural Tree Wrap to protect the bark from sun scald. Over the winter months, a blanket of snow can reflect harsh sun rays back up towards your trees, causing burns and bark damage. Tree wrap is also useful for protecting your trees from hungry animals that might like to nibble at the bark.
- Do a Final Round of Weeding. Those pesky weeds are ‘perennials’ too, and will simply die back and hibernate along with your other plants. To save yourself from a hefty weeding job first thing in the spring, spray or pull weeds now.
- Rake Your Leaves. If possible… it is Alberta after after all, and sometimes the snow arrives before the leaves have fallen! It’s ideal to rake and compost your leaves in the fall to prevent mold and mildew from developing on your lawn and patio during the spring thaw.
- Fertilize Your Grass & Give it a ‘Final Cut.’ Although you typically don’t fertilize other plants right before winter, your grass is an exception. By spreading a slow release fertilizer, you’ll provide nutrients for your grass now, and throughout the winter/spring in times when the ground is thawed and the fertilizer dissolves further. Give it one more cut so it’s fresh for spring and the dead thatch can be minimized.
- Flip Over Pots or Store Inside. To keep your pots from cracking over the winter, flip them upside down or store them indoors to prevent them from collecting water (which will freeze and expand).
- Shut Outside Water Off & Store Hoses. Like your pots, your hoses can freeze and burst over the winter if there is any water left inside. To keep your hoses and taps in tip-top shape, unhook and drain your hoses for the winter, and turn off the water supply to any outdoor taps.
- Put Away or Cover Lawn Furniture and Decor. Prevent water damage or colour fade from the sun by storing or covering your lawn furniture and yard decor for the winter.
- Try Winterizing Your Pond Plants. Most pond plants will not survive our winters, and some gardeners have had success in winterizing their pond plants by storing them in a small tub of water until spring. The trick is to ensure your pond plants experience consistent cool temperatures (so they can go ‘dormant’), but do not freeze. Consider keeping these plants in your garage or cellar.
- Sweep Off Patios and Decks. Winter chinooks bring dusty winds… keep the grime and dust from building up too much by giving your patios and decks a good sweep before winter arrives.
- Be Prepared for Pests. With scarce winter food supply, some hungry critters might turn to your yard for a meal or two, damaging (or even destroying) plants in the process. If you commonly experience wintertime pests like deer and rabbits, keep some Critter Ridder or Plantskydd on hand so you’re ready to respond at the first sign of damage.
- BONUS PRO TIP: Quarantine Outdoor/Indoor Plants. If you have some potted tropicals decorating your patio that you’d like to bring in for the winter, it’s important to quarantine them before introducing them back to the rest of your houseplants. They will almost certainly have some type of bugs, which will thrive in the controlled environment of your home. While bugs are part of the outdoor ecosystem and kept at bay by the elements and their natural predators, they can quickly infest and destroy plants indoors. We highly recommend transitioning any plants by treating them for bugs (use Trounce, End All) and keeping them in a separate room for two to three weeks.
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