The following are some tips that gardeners can use to prepare for the
oncoming cold weather season.
One of the most pressing fall tasks for those who grow Dahlias or
Gladioli is to rescue these "tender" plants before they are
damaged by excessive freezing temperatures.
Gladioli corms and Dahlia tubers
can be dug after the above ground portion of the plant has been touched
by a very light frost.
Gladioli leaves and any remaining flower stalks
should be cut back to within six inches of the corms before they are
lifted and moved indoors to a cool, dry spot, to dry for several weeks.
Then, the corms can be stored in mesh onion bags, paper bags or in
open-sided plastic crates. Dahlia stems should also be cut back to
within six inches of the ground before the plant's tubers are carefully
dug with a shovel or spade. The tubers should be turned upside down and
stored for a few weeks indoors in a well ventilated area to allow
moisture to drain from the stems. They can then be kept upright, in a
box filled with barely moistened sand, peat or straw.
Just after Gladiolis and Dahlias are lifted from the garden, spring
flowering bulbs should be put in place. Tulips and daffodils, hyacinth
and crocus, muscari and scilla should all be planted early enough in the
fall for them to develop a root system before the ground freezes. As a
general rule, bulbs should be planted at a depth that's equal to three
times their height. It's beneficial to drop about a tablespoon of bone
meal into each planting hole before putting a bulb in place (bone meal
is a good source of phosphorus that will encourage better bloom). Then
the planting site should be watered well and mulched with fallen leaves.
If squirrels have damaged your bulbs in the past, try planting some
Fritillaria this year. Commonly known as Crown Imperials, these bulbous
plants have a strong skunky smell that repels squirrels and other pests.
Their spectacular, long-lasting flowers are an added bonus!
Garlic should also be planted in the fall. Since grocery store
varieties are not recommended for home gardens (they are sometimes
treated with a sprout inhibitor), choose plump, fleshy garlic bulbs from
a garden centre. Pull away individual cloves and plant them, pointed end
up, in a sunny location that has well drained soil. Mark the planting
spot appropriately so that the garlic will not be disturbed while you're
cultivating the garden next spring.
(photo: Deborah Peck)
Gardeners who have a collection of tender hybrid tea roses should be
planning to protect their plants for the winter in one way or another.
These types of roses can be dug from their growing spot after their
foliage has been killed by frost (but before the ground freezes
completely) and then buried in a hole that's at least two feet deep in a
very well drained spot in the garden. They can be dug out again next
spring for replanting; the plants can be left in their current growing
place, mounded with compost (to a depth of at least one foot), and then
completely covered with dry leaves or straw mulch.
Many shrubs and trees also need some type of winter protection.
Specimens that are close to buildings, where they are apt to be crushed
by snow falling from the roof, should be covered with a solid frame that
will deflect snow and ice. Evergreens that have been planted in sites
that are exposed to high winds and blowing snow should be wrapped with
burlap. Rhododendrons, however, should simply be surrounded by burlap
that is held away from their foliage by stakes pounded into the ground
around the perimeter of the plant (they suffer from being wrapped too
tightly). If mice have damaged your shrubs and trees in the past,
consider investing in plastic or wire mesh "stem wraps" that
are designed to keep mice from chewing on bark.
Hardy herbaceous perennial plants usually need little or no winter
protection. Some gardeners prefer to cut the stems of perennials back to
ground level in the fall and then cover the plants with a mulch of
leaves or evergreen boughs. Other gardeners prefer to leave the plants'
dead foliage in place to act as a snow trap.
Finally, gardeners should consider taking the time to write a journal
of this year's successes and failures. It's amazing how quickly we
forget about where we planted the hollyhocks or the foxglove, what
variety of carrots, cucumbers, marigolds or petunias we had the greatest
luck growing, what type of tomatoes grew the fattest or the tallest and
the names of those daylilies we got on sale in July. A record of your
planting achievements will be a great resource when the seed catalogues
start arriving next January!