Preparing your landscape for winter can be a lot of work, but it's worth it! Not only will some careful prep help your plants and trees survive the cold months ahead, but it will get you ahead of the gardening game when spring arrives. So, how do you prepare your landscape for the sub-zero temperatures? Here are some fall gardening tips that will keep you on track.
The best way to prepare for winter—and inevitably, spring—is to put your gardening tools away properly. It’s one of those obvious chores that can get put off for too long, and suddenly everything is covered in a thick layer of snow. Wait even longer, and they’re iced into place with no hope of rescue. By the time the yard thaws, most of your pots will be cracked and broken, while even the hardiest steel tools will have started to rust.
Check your outdoor kitchen and entertaining space for items that you don’t need over the cold months, and get them packed up safely, too. The same goes for bicycles, outdoor toys, kiddie pools and anything that will crack in the ice or just look messy in your winter garden.
Take the time to clean up your gardening tools this fall, and you’ll thank yourself when it starts to snow! All the empty plant pots, seedling containers, half-full bags of potting soil, hand trowels, spades and 1990s infomercial purchases (garden weasel, anyone?) should be cleaned up and stored somewhere out of the elements.
To deep-clean your gardening tools—which is advisable to maintain them and avoid spreading spores and microbes to next year’s plants—start with soap, water and a stiff scrub brush. Use the high-pressure hose setting to remove stubborn, dried mud. Wipe with ethyl alcohol to sanitize; this is especially important if your plants have suffered with infestations, mould or other diseases this summer.
If you notice rust on any of your metal tools, get out some steel wool and scrub it away. During the cleaning and rust-removal process, check for dull blades on your pruners, scythes, etc. Now is the perfect time to have those sharpened. Follow this up with a light layer of linseed oil or WD-40 Multi-Use to protect the metal while in storage.
Even the hardiest of perennials could use a bit of blanketing from the frost and wind, which is why it’s a good idea to mulch. Mulch is basically a blanket made of organic material like straw, chipped wood, leaves, etc., and it provides protection from frost, cold winds and frost heaving. Frost heaving happens when the ground freezes and thaws repeatedly, pushing short-rooted plants right out of the soil.
Mulching is especially important for new plants you’ve introduced into the yard and garden this year, since they are the most susceptible to frost heaving. Any young, small or new plants should be treated to four to six inches of mulch this fall, after the first hard frost. Take care not to completely cover the growing part of the plant (the cone). The extra layers will ensure that those little roots have enough space if they’re pushed upwards over the course of the winter. Any extra mulch should be removed in spring.
If you don’t know environmental zone you live in, check out Canada’s Plant Hardiness Zones Map. In Canada’s Niagara region, we enjoy a very mild range of 5-6 in the Hardiness Zones, while most of the provinces have a range of 1-5. The territories are in a Hardiness zone that ranges from 0-1, which means only the very strongest of plants can survive.
Part of the Carolinian Zone, Niagara is home to native plants, amphibians and insects that live nowhere else in Canada! When you choose to incorporate indigenous plants into your landscaping plan, they help support native wildlife like the southern flying squirrel, monarch butterflies, rusty-patched bumblebees and the Blanding’s turtle. Plant species like black-eyed Susans, cardinal flowers, false sunflowers, wild bergamot and zigzag goldenrods not only add diverse natural beauty to your garden, but they’ll attract pollinators, butterflies and birds, too.
Knowing your Hardiness Zone will help you identify plant species that cannot handle winter landscape, so you can pot them and bring them inside for the season. Many annual plants will last longer than one year if treated gently and brought inside before the temperature dips below 7 degrees Celsius. In addition, tuberous plants like canna, elephant ear, tuber roses and dahlias will survive indoors for the winter with very little attention—all they want is a cool, dry, dark place to rest until springtime.
It’s not uncommon for a garden or yard to feature out-of-zone trees and shrubs, so if you’ve added any zone-sensitive plants to your landscaping, they would appreciate being covered during your fall gardening and landscape maintenance. Burlap is the material of choice, as it’s breathable but also thick and sturdy enough to provide real protection from wind and frost.
If covering your plants, do so once the temperature has dropped consistently to about 5 degrees Celsius, but before the ground has frozen. Even trees and shrubs that are resistant to Canadian winters could benefit from winter coverage to keep them safe from snowplows and salt. Keep your plants covered until the ground thaws and take off the burlap on a cloudy day or in late afternoon to avoid sun shock damage.
When it comes to winter and perennial landscape solutions, Tree Amigos knows how to make the most beautiful ideas come to life. Get in touch with us today to talk about your landscaping project and collaborate with our professional team on some great new ideas for fall, winter, and all year round!