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Five Must-Do Tasks to Winterize your Garden

November 4, 2015

It might not seem like it just yet, especially since we’ve been experiencing such sunny, warm fall weather, but Old Man Winter is slowly breathing down our necks. Before long, you’ll be scraping the frost off your car windows and bundling up around the fireplace. Before you do that, though, don’t put away your garden tools just yet.

This month’s essential home maintenance task provides a checklist of to-do tasks to make sure your garden and lawn are properly winterized. So whether it’s your vegetable garden or your flowering one, grab your gloves and gardening tools one last time before the cold sets in.

REW.cawent to Conor Preston, gardener at Vancouver’s Figaro’s Garden, for his best advice on how to prepare your gardens and lawns for winter.  

“By properly winterizing the garden, you not only help plants survive the short gray days and cool nights that winter brings, it’s an important step in ensuring the garden will produce colourful flowers in the spring,” says Preston.

Here are his five key tips.

1) Clean Up Debris

For your shrubs, trees and gardens to bloom and thrive, you must first clean up last year’s debris, such as leaves or branches from your trees. Removing dead and dying foliage will give your garden a spruced up look all winter.

Leaves make for great mulch for your garden beds, so compost them or rake them right into your soil.  “If you have compost bin, in which the organic waste has broken down for a year, add that into your garden beds along with some manure and granular fertilizer,” says Preston. “Then, you’ll only have to buy enough soil to build up and raise your garden beds.”

2) Prune or Store Plants

Look for weak, dead, broken or overgrown plants or trees and do some major pruning. Also, take a good look at your evergreens and give them a “thin out.” Even if plants are healthy, they could usually still benefit from a good fall pruning.

If you still have non-hardy flowering plants such as dahlias or gladiolas in the ground, lift them out and store them in a cool, dark place for the winter.

With all the winter rain BC is famous for, it’s a good idea to bring your container plants, such as geraniums or pelargonium, inside to stay warm. “Bring your non-hardy plants inside and place them in a sunny window or you can dry them and store the bare roots.” Preston cautions that if your home is very dry, add humidity into the air to ensure the leaves don’t dry out. Or alternatively, add stones or gravel to the bottom of the container and mist the leaves on a regular basis.

3) Divide and Conquer

Fall is the perfect season to divide a wide variety of perennial plants – those plants that live and flower year after year. It’s a great practice to do this as not only does it promote the plant’s health and give them space to grow, but also you get free extra plants to place elsewhere! The general rule is to divide them a few weeks before the ground freezes so they get established before freezing weather arrives.

4) Fertilize and Lime your Lawn

A gorgeous lawn – resistant to disease, insects, moss and weeds – depends largely on how you feed it. With our heavy West Coast rainfalls, much of the mineral content of the soil is washed away each year.

Lawns should be fed at regular intervals. Preston recommends you apply your winter fertilizer in early November. To ensure an even application, he suggests you invest in a good fertilizer spreader.

When you apply fertilizer, give your lawn a good socking (that’s if by some miracle it hasn’t rained) to make sure that the fertilizer makes it deep into the soil and does not remain on the leaves where it could burn them.

Moss is an insidious weed in your lawn – and it loves rain. Take steps to kill and remove the moss in your lawn. To do this, apply either a liquid or granular moss control to affected areas. Then a few days later, use a power rake to remove the dead moss. Once that’s done, apply a thin layer of soil or sand followed by an application of grass seed to grow where the moss once thrived.

Preston says lime is an extremely important soil conditioner that helps your lawn absorbs fertilizer and discourages moss from growing. Lime won’t kill moss, but it will neutralize the pH of the soil, making fertilizer more effective. For best results, he suggests you apply lime again in spring. “Vegetables like a controlled soil. When you add lime it changes the pH so your fall vegetables, such as garlic and raw beans, can thrive.”

5) Plant Trees, Shrubs and Perennials

This dormant season is a great time to plant trees, shrubs and perennials. Even though plants may not look their best and the blooms won’t show up until spring, giving them time to establish themselves over winter in order to give them a great head start for spring.

You should have already started planting your spring-flowering bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, in October – but there’s still time at the beginning of November to get them in, as they need some time to root in the fall. “This is also the best time of year to get great deals on bulbs,” adds Preston.

With our mild winters, most commonly grown plants won't suffer too much from the cold.

Bonus tip: Finally, clean, oil and/or fix your garden tools before you store them for the winter.