Calgary·Q&A

Fall gardening in Alberta made easy

Wet and cold are not ideal for yardwork, but there is still lots to do these days in the garden.

Natural gardener Chelsie Anderson says seasonal yardwork is far from over

Chelsie Anderson is a natural gardener and The Homestretch’s seasonal gardening columnist. (Submitted by Chelsie Anderson)

Wet and cold are not ideal for yardwork, but there is still lots to do these days in the garden.

Chelsie Anderson is a natural gardener and The Homestretch's seasonal gardening columnist. Here's a roundup of her tips for fall gardening.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. You can listen to the complete interview here.


Q: Slugs seem to like this weather. Are they good or bad for your garden?

A: Generally speaking they are foes because they love those leafy things.

They are vegetarians, so they will eat our crops. They are particularly hungry for things like hostas, lettuce, beans and peas and they can drive gardeners crazy.

Fortunately they do like it wet and Calgary tends to be a pretty dry place to live so we don't usually have problems with them, but where we usually see them are in those irrigated gardens.

Q: You discovered an unusual slug in your own garden recently?

A: I had never seen anything but those little brown slugs about the size of a kidney bean but this year I saw a pretty large, reddish-brown slug.

It must have been about 10 to 12 centimetres across. It reminded me of a banana slug that comes from the B.C. coast but it was the wrong colour.

I figured it must have come in with some plant material I had ordered from B.C., so I wasn't overly concerned. I did some research and it turns out it has been called the bigfoot slug here in Alberta. Its real name is the Chocolate Arion slug and it's from Europe.

The trouble is he is definitely vegetarian and his size means he will be eating more that those regular slugs will be eating.

In Canmore they have been overwintering and that's what worries me, because I thought they may just die out with the cold weather but they won't.

Q: What other critters do we see more of in the fall?

A: Rodents are looking for hideouts with the cooler temperatures. At my place I suddenly have a whole bunch of pocket gophers, which can be a problem year round, they turned up in my garden over the last two weeks.

They leave substantial piles of soil everywhere. I have a friend who had heard a rumour that you can put on a radio 24 hours a day and it will scare them off, and guess what station she chose?

You may also find ladybugs in some of the leaves around and wasps, they are looking for places to overwinter.

Q: What is "turning" your garden beds and do you recommend it?

A: This means turning that soil over with a shovel or garden fork but I am hesitant to say it's a good thing because it can actually harm those beneficial critters in your soil.

Worms often get chopped in half. It also disturbs that microbiology in the soil, the bacteria and fungus that can be damaged or killed, which leaves your garden barren of all the stuff that helps to grow plants naturally.

Mother Nature never turns her soil. Instead, she provides these little critters who turn it for us.

I would avoid turning it and let those little guys do it for you.

Q: Do shrubs and trees need special attention in the fall?

A: Not a lot. Try not to touch them as much as possible.

This time of year they are sending energy down to their roots. If you prune off branches, you might be doing more harm than good. But you can give them a really good soak of water before it freezes so they have enough moisture for the winter and spring.

Q: Planting garlic, is it the right time?

A: Fall is the right time, but it is a little bit early still.

We want to wait until the ground is just about frozen so that they preserve better, so hold off for a few more weeks or a month and ideally you can plant it now and not in the spring.

Q: How does garlic grow?

A: It is a bulb, so it's an underground crop.

If you take the bulb and break it into the individual cloves and tuck each of those cloves [into the ground] with the pointy side up, so the rooty side is down, that's as much as you have to do.

Add some mulch to protect it for winter, and leaf litter really works well for that.

Q: What other plants are perfect this time of year?

A: Bulbs are really good this time of year.

Aliums — which are in the onion family — are a good thing to plant. These are more for show than eating.

It is the time of year to plant tulips, they are that really early bloomer as is the muscari, also known as grape hyacinth.

If you plant daffodil, I would suggest the variety called tête-à-tête​ because the other varieties should have been planted before now.

Q: Aren't garden centres closing up shop now, so won't it be harder to find what you are looking for?

A: It's a good time to buy because they are so cheap right now. If you can find the plants you want, buy them, but things are starting to sell out.

It is a great time of year to plant perennials because this cooler weather means they are less stressed, which means they can get their roots settled in before it freezes solid. So get out there and see what you can find in the garden centres and plant them now.

Q: What else should we be harvesting right now?

A: Kale is still available in your garden, you can keep picking it.

I picked some grapes and they need that frost to make them really sweet and delicious.

And I found a plum tree the other day that had some really good plums on it, so keep your eyes peeled. Things are still out there.

With files from The Homestretch.