Putting Your Garden to Bed: Mark Cullen’s Top Tips

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Putting Your Garden to Bed: Mark Cullen’s Top Tips

It’s that time of year when I shed a tear or two (actually, it’s a full-on sob) that all the planting, weeding and pruning I painstakingly put into my garden are just distant memories. My prized summer annuals and hanging-basket arrangements have deteriorated and all signs of colour have faded. Now my thoughts turn to cleaning my garden and lawn before winter to protect it from cold weather damage and to help it bloom gloriously next spring.

Marc Cullen standing beside a tree with orange leaves

To find out how best to prepare our lawns and gardens for winter, I reached out to Mark Cullen, Canada’s gardening expert, broadcaster, and columnist. He shared his top tips.

1. Show your lawn some love

Fall is the most important time to fertilize your lawn. A quality fertilizer builds up natural sugars at the roots, which help your lawn through the winter so it can thrive next spring (not unlike a well-fed bear heading into hibernation). You’ll also experience less snow mold and burn out and you’ll have a faster green-up next spring. Look for a sophisticated slow release formula like a 12-0-18. These numbers indicate the percentage by weight of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, three major nutrients required for healthy plant growth.

2. Rake for your garden’s sake

Before the first major freeze, cut your lawn to its normal height (6 to 8 cm). Rake leaves and do not leave anything — leaves or grass clippings — on the lawn during the winter. Use those leaves as mulch to spread over garden beds to provide much-needed nutrients to the soil. It’s simple to mulch leaves with either a mulching mower or a regular lawnmower. You can also use leaves and clippings to build your compost. First, empty your compost to make room for the new raw material. Then, mix four parts leaves with one part leftover compost plus annual plants and/or grass clippings. Green Earth Compost Accelerator gets compost off to a great start.

3. Tend to your trees

Fruit and young flowering trees, including fruit-bearing crabapple, apple, pear, and plum trees, all need to be protected from rabbit and mouse damage during the winter. Use plastic spiral protectors on the bottom of tree trunks for great results. After a tree has matured to about 10 cm in diameter (measured about 80 cm up the trunk), this is no longer a concern, as rodents prefer bark from young trees. Be sure to treat your flowering crabapple and plum trees the same way.

4. Respect your roses 

Hybrid tea, floribunda, grandiflora, and miniature roses need to be insulated from the effects of the freeze-thaw cycles. The best protection is a thick (60 cm) layer of triple mix or clean top soil mounded at the base of each plant. A corrugated plastic rose collar helps to mound the soil even farther up the canes of the plant, giving more protection to the roots and bud union of the plant. Climbing roses and hardy shrub roses do not need winterizing.

5. Cover your evergreens

Upright evergreens like junipers and cedars need to be protected from the drying effects of the wind and the potential burning effects of the late winter sun as it reflects off the snow. Use two layers of burlap for best results.

6. Turn on the bulbs

It’s not too late to plant spring flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils. Ideally, bulbs should be planted at least six weeks before the soil freezes to give them enough time for the roots to be established. Don’t forget to water the bulbs after planting to help stimulate root growth.

7. Shut off water

Turn off your outdoor water faucets, as these are susceptible to freezing. But first, water your evergreens. Believe it or not, the roots of evergreens prefer to be wet before any serious freezes, and they’ll be much happier over winter if they get a watering first. Close shut-off valves for all outside faucets, and then turn on the outside faucets to let them drain properly.

After a busy growing season, you may be tempted to leave your lawn and garden for more exciting activities like watching the fall TV lineup or baking pumpkin pies, but a little elbow grease now will give them a jump-start on spring! For more ideas on fall cleanup and other gardening tips, visit markcullen.com 10,000 gardening questions. Answered. You can also sign up for Mark’s free monthly newsletter.

Did you clean up your garden yet? Do you plan to? Let us know in the comments below.