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Tuck your garden in for the winter

It's no fun living outdoors through a Montreal winter. (There's the understatement of the century!). And yet, that's what a majority of our plants have to do. So here are a few easy steps to make their lives easier (and yours, come spring). You ready? Let's help those plants BE GREEN!

Watch [Runs 2:57]

1. Bring out the yard clippers:
Start by trimming all the dead leaves off your annuals and perennials. Trim them way down like in the video. Also, mow your lawn so the grass isn't too long. You can actually leave the fall leaves on the lawn as you do this. Ditto grass clippings. It's actually GOOD to be lazy and leave it all on the ground. It's mulch (which we'll talk about in a second).

2. Bye-bye weeds: One area you DON'T want to be lazy is when it comes to digging up your weeds. Get 'em out. And stick the ones that aren't going to seed in the composter. The ones that have seeds are best left for a city compost where the high temperatures will keel ze leetle devils.

3. Speaking of compost... Now would be a good time to harvest yours. Bring out the fresh, rich earth and feed your plant beds. If your compost isn't entirely ready, sift out the still-rotting bits and plonk them right back in your composter. This will also pave the way for effective winter composting because there'll be more space to chuck stuff in during the cold months when your composter's appetite is sluggish.

4. Tulip Time: Now's an excellent time to plant your spring-flowering bulbs. Daffodils and Narcissus should go in first because they need some time to root in the fall. Tulips can actually be planted all the way up to the end of November, right up until the ground freezes. It may be worth delaying considering if you have critters that like to dig.

5. Mucho mulch: Inviting kids to come over and play in the fall leaves is one painless way to get through this step of the winterizing process. Mulch is basically any shredded plant matter. You can get bark mulch, leaf mulch and other types. Leaf mulch is free--just use the leaves already on your lawn or borrow some from the pavement outside your house. (And if you plan to compost this winter, grab enough to fill a garbage can. I have a video piece coming up later this month which will explain why).
Why mulch?

Because mulch is a kinda magic bullet for your garden:
* It protects delicate plants and tree roots from freezing in the winter
* It maintains humidity in the soil during the summer
* It nourishes the soil in an all natural way
* It attracts earthworms that munch on it and rebury organic nutrients where your plants can get them

Not bad for a bunch of dead leaves, eh? Plus, this way you don't have to rake 'em.

6. Trim bushes: Get your mind out of the gutter and get those clippers out! It's a good idea to trim the dead or older stalks off bushes and shrubs in order to encourage new growth in the spring. With careful pruning, your garden will flourish faster and become more lush once the weather warms up next year.

This beautiful painting is by artist Nancy Dias

7. Pots up!: Most of us have a bunch of annuals out in pots. What most of us don't know is that there's no reason not to try and bring said plants indoors to see if they'll weather an indoor winter. I have tons of friends who do this and save mucho dinero while everyone else is out buying fresh plants in the spring. The other thing to do is to make clippings this time of year. Put them in mason jars full of water (and a few drops of plant food when warranted). By spring they'll have grown roots and be ready to replant. It's kinda like being a midwife. I like!
Another thing to consider with pots is that even if you're willing to let your plants die, ceramics and earthen pots are unlikely to survive the freeze thaw cycles that most Montreal winters are famous for. Don't want to spend a fortune on pots next year, be smart: bring them indoors or put them in a shed/garage.

8. Got gas? I'm talking of the type that goes in your lawnmower and costs the earth. If you happen to have gasoline in your lawnmower, take it out and store it somewhere where it won't freeze. Of course, the only problem with it freezing is if it's still in your tank. Otherwise it's all good.

9. General maintenance:
The fall is an excellent time to clean and sharpen all your garden tools. Take stock of the stuff that needs to be replaced or that you've lent out and put everything away in an order that will make your life easy come spring. Make sure sprayer and such are emptied out and washed.

And voila! Your garden is winterized!

These tips are just the basics. I'd love to hear from you. Do you have simple winterizing tips that you'd like to share with other Montrealers? I'd love to hear from you. Leave me a comment or call our talkback line: (514) 597-5626

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Comments (2)

H Langshur


You advocated using leaves as mulch. I have always been told to avoid that.
You did mention that the leaves should be dry...OK, but next day it may rain.


Posted October 20, 2008 09:05 PM

Geeta Nadkarni


There are a couple of things worth remembering when you use leaf mulch:
1. The leaves should be dry (i.e. not green). It doesn't matter if they get wet when it rains. That's part of the degradation process.
2. The leaves HAVE TO BE SHREDDED. You can do this by hand the way Louise does it in the video; you can invite neighbourhood kids to stomp around in the leaves till they're in bitty pieces or you can use your lawnmower to chop them up. But mulch means they're shredded.
3. All your underlying plants should be trimmed to stubs and your lawn mown to a crew cut. THIS is where most folks run into trouble. You want just a thin layer of organic matter lying on your earth. NOT A THICK LAYER. If the layer gets too thick, rot will set in. This is also a degradation process. The difference is that it will take way longer for your plants to bounce back.

Posted October 21, 2008 10:19 AM

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