Canada geese sound their familiar honk while flying toward their wintering grounds. As the last leaves drop, we begin to notice colourful berries—red, white, blue and black—that are left behind on naked branches. The berries will serve as food sources later in the winter and in the meantime dress our yards with holiday spirit. Small rodents, nuthatches and woodpeckers enjoy nuts from oak and beech trees, while amphibians burrow in the bottom of muddy ponds and in leaf litter, preparing for the frost to come. When the dried-out stalks you’ve left behind in your garden for wildlife have turned into a stunning dried flower arrangement, the time has come to really prepare your yard for winter.
- Leave some piles of leaves in your garden for hibernating frogs and salamanders.
- Clean fallen leaves out of your pond.
- Leave stalks of sunflowers, rudbeckias, asters and goldenrod standing for birds to enjoy the seeds.
General Gardening Chores
- Build up the base of tender plants with a foot of earth to protect the roots over the winter. Climbing roses need to be covered or laid down. Hardy shrub roses may be fine with just some evergreen boughs to catch snow around them.
- Compost raked leaves in a temporary wire enclosure if they overflow your compost bin. Alternatively save your leaves for adding to your compost bin as the level goes down, in which case you can store them in a garbage bin with the lid on.
- If you haven’t already, empty and cover any rain barrels before the temperature drops below freezing.
- Spread leaves in a carpet under trees and shrubs to form a protective mulch; don’t leave them on the lawn, which can damage the grass. Water the mulch down a bit to help it stay in place. This can be a permanent mulch and a fine place to grow wildflowers.
- After the ground has frozen, protect vulnerable plants from temperature fluctuations with 15 to 20 centimetres of mulch. If you have only a few plants to protect, try encircling the plant with stakes and fill the area with dried leaves.
- To prevent damage from winter winds, cut back very tall raspberry and rosebush canes to about 1.5 metres.
- If your plants are healthy, delay the clean-up of perennials until the spring as they provide shelter and possibly seeds for birds.
- Destroy the foliage and stems of any diseased plants to prevent recurrence. (DO NOT place in composter.)
- Conduct a soil test to see what is needed.
- After the first hard frost, add a mulch of compost or well-rotted manure to your gardens.
- Water trees and shrubs (especially evergreens) deeply before frost.
- If your trees have had their bark split vertically in previous winters, prevent a recurrence by tying a 2.5 by 15 centimetre board on the sunny side of the tree. The winter sun can warm the trunks on the southwestern exposure. The trees are then damaged by the sudden contraction and freezing as the sun goes down and winter cold returns.
- Use burlap to wrap and protect plants from road salt or areas where ice may accumulate or drip. If deer tend to strip your trees or shrubs, a burlap barrier will protect from this as well.
- Clean and sharpen your gardening tools to prepare them for next spring.
Planting and Pruning
- Plant tough, reliable blooming plants like sedum and butterfly bush so you can enjoy them in the spring.
- Crabapple and chokecherry trees can be planted fall or spring.
- Dig gladiolas, cannas and dahlias and cut off stalks. Dry the tubers and store indoors in a cool, dry place.
- Plant spring-flowering bulbs and use chicken wire to protect them from squirrels.
- For open ground, plant annual ryegrass as green manure to improve the soil and protect it from erosion; then till it under in the spring.
- Though you should do most of your pruning in spring in Canada, repair storm damage or remove dead branches at any time. DO NOT use pruning paints to do this, however, as modern research shows they often cause more harm than good.
- Move potted plants indoors or bury them in the garden soil.