Winter is creeping closer and the days are getting shorter and colder. While it may not seem like prime time to be outside getting your hands dirty in the garden, there’s a lot you can do now to help prep the area for winter.
No matter what kind of space you’re working in – be it a large plot in your backyard or a tiny raised bed in a community garden – spending time in the space now can mean better outcomes for your flowers and plants in the growing season to come. Plus, simply being outside in the fresh air, no matter the time of year, just makes you feel good.
Here’s a list of tasks to tackle before the snow really flies.
Tidy up – strategically
As plants and flowers die back and leaves drop, it’s tempting to grab the rake and tidy everything up and out of sight. Fight the urge and leave perennial plants, stalks, leaves and seed pods in place over the winter. Leaving behind lots of plant material provides food and shelter to overwintering birds and will create a haven for pollinators and helpful insects come springtime.
If you can, rake some of the leaves onto your garden beds, especially on plants that could use a little insulation over the winter.
Support the birds
Now is the time to break out the bird feeder and suet. Be sure to feed birds consistently over the colder months, as overwintering birds may become dependent on your food source. Aim to sanitize the feeder every two weeks or so to help minimize the spread of disease.
Protect shrubs and garden beds
You don’t need to prune or trim most bushes and shrubs in the fall – it’s often best to wait until early spring. But late fall is a good time to stake and wrap in burlap young or newly planted trees that might break under the weight of ice and snow. Also, be sure to keep watering them until the ground freezes fully.
You can also wrap burlap around small bushes like hydrangeas that are at risk of damage during blustery winter weather. Add a layer of mulch, such as shredded bark, around the base to help insulate the roots during thaw and freeze cycles. You can also add mulch to your main garden beds to help buffer your perennials from the elements.
Fertilize veggie gardens
If you have an area where you like to grow vegetables and herbs, late autumn is a good time to fertilize the space. Spread compost or manure on the soil and work in some lime and fertilizer. Put straw or hay on garden beds to protect delicate plants like strawberries and lavender that you’ll be overwintering.
Now is the perfect time to plant garlic, ideally a few weeks after you’ve fertilized the garden. This plant-it-and-forget-it crop grows well in Nova Scotia. Visit a farmers’ market for hardneck local garlic (pick bulbs with the biggest cloves), and get it in the ground just before it freezes; cover the beds with straw or leaves for extra protection over the winter and to keep weeds at bay in the spring. With garlic, later is better – if you plant it in early autumn, it could sprout before winter arrives.
Seeing colourful and vibrant bulbs blooming in the spring feels like a reward for enduring a long winter. Luckily, you can plant most bulbs right up until the ground freezes. Pick a well-drained, sunny spot and have fun planting crocus, daffodils, tulips, hyacinth and alliums. If you’re not sure how deep to go, the rule of thumb is about three times the height of the bulb.
No matter what you decide to tackle in your yard, be sure to check the forecast before heading outside and dress accordingly – wear layers, gardening gloves and sturdy boots, and have your water bottle handy.