By Judy Hendry, Horticulrutal Coordinator
Putting the Garden to Bed
Taking care in putting the garden to bed each fall will ensure that the garden will survive the challenges of winter. There are basically four main considerations in fall gardening: pruning perennials, cleaning up, protecting plants and preparing for spring.
1. The main objective of fall pruning is to cut off diseased and dying parts of plants. Most perennials can be cut back to three inches in the fall although a few, like echinacea, astilbe, autumn sedum and rudbeckia look great standing because they act as winter mulch trapping the snow and protecting plants. They also provide seeds and cover for birds and beneficial insects. It is best to wait until a frost has caused the plants to die back before you prune them. Don’t prune woody shrubs until they are dormant.
2. Start cleaning up by pulling dead or declining annuals. Rake up leaves especially those affected by pests These leaves if left on the ground will allow for more infestation in the spring. Empty, clean, disinfect and bring in or turn over containers. An easy way to disinfect containers is by spraying them with a bleach solution (30 ml. bleach/litre of water). Clean and store stakes, cages and garden ornaments. Clean and sharpen tools, before storage. Remove all caked on soil, sharpen edges with a file and give them a protective finish with a light coating of oil.
3. Be prepared for sudden swings in temperature and protect tender plants by covering them with mulch. Wrap trees with burlap. Burlap also protects against sun damage which causes the bark to split exposing the tree to insect damage and disease. Before daily temperatures drop well below freezing, carefully pull down the long canes of roses, lay them flat on the ground, and cover them with mulch.
4. Weed. Tag plants that need to be divided in the spring. Prepare your planting beds with compost and manure. Till the soil to expose insects trying to burrow in for the winter. Shred your leaves. They are free compost. A layer of mulch in the fall will suppress weed seed germination in the spring and protect your plants. Plant bulbs in uneven groups or clumps for a more natural look in spring.
All 4 of these activities are important in fall gardening. Remember to do what really needs doing first.