Time to put your garden to bed for upcoming winter
The winter that wouldn’t end. Record-breaking heat. Avocadosized hail. Hazardous air quality indexes above 10. The only thing Mother Nature didn’t throw at us was a plague of locusts.
The 2018 gardening year was a challenge. One could be forgiven for reaching for the gin before noon.
And yet, we Calgary gardeners are a hearty lot (optimistic?) and will survive to garden another year. There are gardening tasks to be undertaken now before it’s all over for the season and the unwelcome F word (frost) blackens perennials and annuals.
Annual containers will be tiredlooking shortly — if not already. You can, however, enjoy one last pop of colour by replacing summer annuals with fall-flowering mums on sale at box stores and garden centres.
Annual grasses are widely available as well and provide the thriller component in containers. Watering is Job 1 — even this time of the year, but I don’t bother fertilizing as the last container show will be short-lived.
Speaking of watering, a slow, deep soaking of perennials, shrubs and trees will produce welcome results next spring and summer. And the operative words here are slow and deep. A soaker hose is the best tool for this.
Trees and shrubs can be pruned now or you might consider waiting until the deciduous trees have lost their leaves as this allows the “bones” of the tree to stand out. Branches that are crossed and rubbing against each other should be removed, as well as those infected with black knot. Make sure to destroy black knot-infected branches and do not put them in the recycle bin nor compost pile.
Which perennials to leave until spring and which to cut back are a matter of personal choice. I choose to cut peonies and lilies to the base but leave delphinium and larkspur as these provide winter interest. That, and leaving perennials as they are will help collect snow and ameliorate some of the problems the chinook freeze/thaw cycle can cause. Cutting lilies to the base, especially Asiatic varieties, helps reduce the chance of the dreaded lily beetle taking hold next year.
Now is the perfect time to plant hardy perennials as well. Many are reasonably priced at box stores and garden centres. Make sure to water in well and mulch around the base. Mulching your entire perennial bed with leaves is a good thing to do once the leaves have fallen from the trees. This keeps moisture in the ground and helps prevent perennials from heaving out of the ground.
There can be nothing more uplifting than the first flush of springflowering bulbs. Tulips, alliums, crocus and iris should be planted within the next two to three weeks. These bulbs/tubers look much better when planted en masse and benefit greatly from the addition of bone meal to the planting hole. If squirrels are a problem, chicken wire placed on top of the soil after planting keeps these critters from nipping at the bulbs.
And finally, give the lawn one final cut but leave it a little longer than you usually would to help collect snow. Whether or not to fall-winter fertilize is, I think, a matter of personal choice as I have not seen a dramatic difference between those lawns fertilized versus those not.
Here’s hoping the Farmer’s Almanac forecast for the impending mother of all winters is wrong. Gin before noon sounds just fine if they are correct.
Gardening in Calgary can be a challenge yet there can be nothing more gratifying than plant material at its peak in the summer. An it’s only a matter of time before this image will turn into the image below.
The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a harsh winter is in store. Lots of snow is, however, a good thing for the garden as moisture levels have been low for a number of years.