Your last gardening to-do list of the season

Canadians have much to look forward to in the next few months: hockey, the Grey Cup, warm fires, skiing, backyard hockey rinks. Gardeners are looking forward to having some time off to consider their strategy for next season’s garden — but not until we complete some important tasks.

Here is our short list of the most important jobs at hand, and what not to do, as we begin to shut down the garden:

Store your garden hose, watering cans, hand tools and anything made of wood in your garage, shed or in a covered spot.

1. Put stuff away. You have an investment in a lot of things that do not fare well when exposed to winter weather. Items to store in the garage, shed, or other dry, covered spot: garden hose, watering cans, hand tools and anything that is made of wood. Wood rots fastest during the freeze/thaw cycles that the GTA is famous for. Wooden window boxes and furniture should not contact soil, which hastens rot.

2. Lawn mower. If you haven’t already, you’ll soon cut your grass for the last time until next year. We use our power mower set to its highest setting to mulch leaves on the lawn, then rake the excess onto the garden. Then, we either empty the gas tank and change the oil of a power mower or put a stabilizer in it to keep it fresh come spring. Clean and oil the cutting deck.

3. Lay sod. “The best performing sod we have laid is in November. Come spring, it bounces back and takes root,” says Simon Evans of Northscape Landscaping. A pro has spoken.

4. Fertilize your lawn. This sounds odd, but the most important application of lawn fertilizer is right now, before the snow flies and the deep freeze arrives. A fall application of lawn food strengthens the root zone for a fast and healthy green-up come spring.

5. Leaves. Instead of putting them out to the curb, save work, expense and money by raking leaves off your lawn onto your garden. Either mulch them or pile them up in your compost bin so that they’ll rot down by mid-spring, attract all kinds of beneficial insects and make your garden plants very happy.

Or you can rake them into large paper bags, drag them out to the curb to be picked up, then buy soil or manure come spring. Do what makes the most sense for you.

6. Plant tulips. Last call! Tulips take well to our cold Canadian soil. Most other spring flowering bulbs less so, as they generally need more time to put down a root before winter.

Work you can avoid:

Leave ornamental grasses and perennials standing through winter for interest in your garden and to help feed the invisible creatures that benefit your soil.
  • Do not cut back ornamental grasses and perennials. We leave ours standing all winter for two reasons: 1) they create winter interest in the garden as the snow lands on them; and 2) many beneficial insects, soil-borne mycorrhizae and beneficial bacteria benefit from the duff material that falls from trees, shrubs and perennials in the fall. Avoid the temptation to sanitize your garden
  • Do not trim your hydrangeas. These large, late-season, flowering beauties have seen a rise in their popularity. Let them stand until April with the flowers intact. They are much more interesting than the bunch of sticks that form the skeleton of a pruned hydrangea.
  • Do not prune maples, birch or other hardwood trees while in their dormant stage. If pruned in the dormant season after the leaves fall, they tend to bleed when spring arrives and this weakens them. It’s best to prune these trees when in full leaf.

It’s almost time to enjoy your winter not gardening. Come spring, you will be refreshed and ready to start digging in the garden of your dreams.

Mark and Ben Cullen are expert gardeners and contributors for the Star. Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkCullen4


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