Winter is coming!

Is your garden ready? (IT)

The leaves are changing, Halloween’s around the corner and pumpkin spice lattes are all the rage. With the weather cooling down, it’s time to start preparing your garden for the winter months. We asked Frank Ferragine, Breakfast Television Toronto’s weather and garden expert and co-owner of Bradford Greenhouses, for tips on how to winterize your garden.

Frank Ferragine

Start by tidying up

Clear out any diseased, insect-ridden or dead plants and any weed growth to save yourself some extra work later. If left over the winter, weed seeds can germinate; when the spring thaw comes those plants will be even messier to deal with. “Going into winter with a clean garden is key,” says Ferragine.

Part of cleaning up is cutting back some of your plants. Soft-stemmed plants like hostas can be cut to the ground, whereas those with a harder stem, like coneflowers, should be left with eight to ten inches of height. “What happens is when the snow blows across it’ll collect around those plants,” says Ferragine, “and snow’s an insulator.”

Wait before you tuck in your garden

Tempted to put down a protective layer as soon as it starts getting a little nippy? Ferragine advises holding off. “You definitely don’t want to do it too early because if we have a warm spell, it can cause more harm than help.” Gardeners should wait for a few “significant” frosts before starting to bed down their gardens. Late October or early November is a safe bet.

Keep your plants watered until you start to see ground frost, especially if it’s a dry or warm autumn like last year’s. And when you’re tucking your plants in, put down a heavier layer of mulch than you normally would in the summer to insulate them.

Frank Ferragine

Prune after bloom

It’s important to only prune a plant after it has flowered. A good rule of thumb is to prune the plant back by a third. Leave spring-blooming flowering shrubs like lilacs and rhododendrons alone, or you’ll remove their flowers for the spring season. “If you prune after you bloom, you’ll never fail.”

With hydrangeas in particular, some bloom on old wood and some on new; knowing the difference is critical for pruning. Ferragine notes a general rule to follow is hydrangeas with pink and blue flowers shouldn’t be pruned before winter, while white-flowering ones can be.

Wrap it up

You’ll also need to wrap and twine some of your shrubs or small trees in the garden to insulate them against the wind and cold. Protect shrubs that aren’t too tall by placing four posts around them and draping burlap across the posts to create a barrier. That will provide them with protection against the wind but still allow snow to come in. “Snow will put moisture there in early spring and it’ll insulate around the plants a little too,” says Ferragine.

Some evergreens, like a pyramidal cedar, should be wrapped with burlap if they’re in sunny or windy locations to prevent them from drying out. Moreover, if your evergreen is in a spot where snow can fall onto it from your roof, it should be wrapped and secured with twine at the top to prevent it from breaking under snow or freezing rain. Ferragine recommends tying upright evergreens like cedars and junipers for extra safety.

Think spring

As you prepare your garden for winter, it’s a perfect time to plan for the spring season. Most garden centres offer deals in the fall, so take advantage. Mid to late fall is a good time to plant perennials, trees and shrubs, and Ferragine recommends around two weeks before ground frost for spring-flowering bulbs in particular. “There are so many wonderful spring-flowering bulbs that people can dive into,” he says. “While you’re preparing for winter, you should think spring.”