Planters are beginning to resemble a collection of shrivelled brown sticks. After the dry summer, hostas with crispy edges are faltering and lady's mantle yellow blooms have faded to brown. It's time to start putting those gardens to bed.
We asked two expert gardeners for their advice on winding down the season for your lawn and gardens.
1. Resist temptation
Trim off what is dead, including brown leaves and flower heads, but resist the temptation to cut back the whole flower bed in the fall, our experts said.
'Don't leave fruits and vegetables out all winter to attract animals and set seed.' — Heidi Riley
"Pruning encourages new growth, which will be too tender to survive the winter," said Heidi Riley, who's trained as a master gardener.
Clip off any dead flower heads, unless you'd like them to add visual interest to the garden in winter. Plants including ferns, peonies and sedum have a neat look, and the seeds of echinacea and rudbeckia will attract and feed birds all winter, Riley shared.
If you don't prune back your plants to the ground, their stalks will hold new spring growth straighter — Annabelle hydrangeas, for instance, won't grow in floppy, shares Barb Trainor, who's also trained as a master gardener.
Trainor and her husband maintain about a hectare of perennials and lawn, container gardens on their deck and a large vegetable garden.
If you insist on cleaning up things like hostas, wait until after a hard frost when it's completely dead, Trainor said.
There are exceptions: irises should be cut back to about two inches above the ground — their leaves attract the irises borer which can kill the plant. Daylilies can be cut back to the ground as well as bee balm, because the fallen stalks are susceptible to mould, said Riley.
2. Don't divide
"I would not divide and replant this time of year," said Trainor. "Always in the spring. Same with composting and additives to amend the soil." Otherwise, you lose nutrients over the winter.
3. To mulch or not to mulch
Mulching, too, is not necessarily needed over the winter — or ever, said Trainor, who likes to work her soil in the summer. She has never lost a plant because she does not mulch her garden in winter, she said.
Other gardeners wait for a hard frost, then pile evergreen branches on the garden to insulate it against freeze-thaw cycles, she mentioned, although she has never tried it.
Riley, on the other hand, is all for mulch — noting that bare ground is rare in nature. After spreading compost on her flower beds in the fall, she gathers seaweed and dresses her garden about three inches deep.
"Seaweed is full of micronutrients that enrich the soil and feed the plants. And it's free!" she enthused.
4. Leaves and lawn
"Don't put all those leaves in bags for the garbage trucks to take away," advised Riley. Instead, run the lawnmower over them, and "worms will pull the small pieces into the ground and enrich the soil." said Riley. Isn't nature cool?
Now is the time to spread lime on your lawn and gardens, not spring. Lime needs time to break down into the soil. "Flower and veggie beds need twice as much lime as the soil," advised Riley.
5. Rugged roses
Know what kind of roses you have, if possible. Keep the tags that come on the plants, and check what zone they are hardy for, reminded Riley.
"Anything zone four or under does not have to be protected for the winter," she said. To make this easier, grow only rugosa or explorer roses, which are hardy and don't need protection.
Now is not the time to cut back your roses, either — wait until spring, unless they are tender roses like tea roses labelled zone five or higher. For those, cut them to about a foot tall, making the cut right above a node, instructed Riley, then surround them with chicken wire and fill the tube with dead leaves. "
Pile up and and cover with soil taken from a different part of the garden," said Riley, wrapping them up, "like mummies." Now that's devotion.
"Pruning encourages new growth, which will be too tender to survive the winter. Cut any diseased branches, branches that are rubbing against each other and causing a wound just above a leaf node," she said.
6. Don't eat and run
In the vegetable garden, harvest everything — "don't leave fruits and vegetables out all winter to attract animals and set seed," said Riley.
Pull out all the dead plants and compost them, especially tomato plants. You can work the soil, add compost or manure and mulch, or wait til spring.
You can leave sunflowers, kale and Jerusalem artichokes, said Riley.
7. Turn on to bulbs
Plant bulbs like daffodils and garlic now according to directions, advises Riley. Tulips, hyacinth and other bulbs can wait until late October or November, or even later.
If you planted dahlias in the spring, you'll need to dig them up and store them in a cool, dry place like a basement or garage. They're a lot of work, but the colourful showy and long-lasting blooms can be worth it.
"Surprisingly, gladiola bulbs will survive if they were planted at least six inches deep," reveals Riley.
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