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Yes, It's Time To Put The Garden To Bed!
by Liesbeth Leatherbarrow
by Liesbeth Leatherbarrow

Liesbeth has written for several western gardening publications, including Gardens West and The Gardener for the Prairies. She has also co-authored three gardening books: The Calgary Gardener (with the Calgary Horticultural Society), The Calgary Gardener, Volume Two: Beyond the Basics (with Lesley Reynolds), and 101 Best Plants for the Prairies (with Lesley Reynolds).

October 15, 2000

Mother Nature has been kind to us this fall, providing us with warm, sunny days that seem never-ending. It's hard to believe that winter is only a matter of weeks or even days away, but in our heads and our hearts we know it is lurking just around the corner which means that, for gardeners, there is work to be done. The following tasks are all best completed before the first serious snows fly.

Cut Back Plants:

  • Pull up all annuals, roots and all, or snip them at ground level and leave their root balls to decompose in the soil.
  • Trim perennials as they fade, leaving at least 10 cm of stalk to trap leaves and snow for winter protection.
  • You may wish to leave some plants intact for providing winter interest in the garden (e.g. teasel, alliums, purple coneflower, sunflowers, and ornamental grasses); these will have to be cut back during spring cleanup, before tender new shoots emerge.
  • Throw all garden refuse in the compost bin, except for diseased or mildewed plants, peony foliage (to prevent botrytis), and seedy weeds.

Lift Tender Bulbs:

  • Lift all tender bulbs such as gladiolas and dahlias and store indoors, in a cool dry place.


  • Mulch all perennial borders with organic compost to minimize temperature fluctuations in the soil, especially during Chinooks. Use shredded leaves, dried grass clippings, peat moss, finished compost from the compost bin, or a combination of materials. Spread mulch in layer about 10 cm deep, up to, but not touching, plant crowns.
  • Tender plants of borderline hardiness may be covered with fine soil or peat moss, and then covered with leaves for extra protection, and evergreen perennials, such as dianthus or saxifrage, benefit from a blanket or spruce boughs, low boxes, or burlap mulch blankets for protection against drying winter winds.


  • Soak shrubs and trees out to the drip line on a weekly basis, right until freeze-up, to protect their roots from drying out during long, windy, winter dry spells.
  • Perennials should also be watered, especially those in foundation plantings and other dry areas.

Dig In:

  • Take any orphans that haven't quite made it into the perennial border and sink them in soil up their rims in a temporary location; water and mulch.

Lawn Care:

  • Cut lawns a little shorter than usual and rake all leaves, to prevent disease.

Protect Tender Roses:

  • Cut tender roses back to about 18 in. and cover them with inverted, bottomless plastic pots; then fill the inverted containers with wood chips or other dry material (leaves, peat moss) and surround them with pink fibreglass insulation. Finally, place a double layer of insulation over the entire rose bed, inverted containers and all.
  • Alternatively, cutting them back to about 12 in., dig them up, and bury them in a prepared hole, two to three feet deep. Do not water the roses or the soil. In the spring, uncover the roses, soak their roots overnight in water with some rooting fertilizer added, and then replant them in deeply-worked soil with the bud union about 2 in. below the surface of the soil.

Pond Maintenance:

  • Once the water temperature falls consistently below 12 °C, drain the pond by about two thirds, removing the fish and plants (at least temporarily) and scrub and rinse.
  • Remove all detritus from the bottom of the pond.
  • Service and remove any pumps, fountains and other plumbing for safe indoor storage in the winter.
  • If your pond is less than 24 in. deep bring all fish and marginal plants indoors for the winter, and place a protective cover over the partially drained pond.
  • If your pond has an average depth greater than 24 in. and a maximum depth greater than three feet, you may choose to overwinter comet golfish and koi outdoors. Refill the pond and install a pump with a "bubbler/deicer" to prevent excessive ice buildup; a submersible heater set at 6-10 °C will provide safe water temperatures for the fish.

Improve Soil Quality:

  • Dig in a combination of well-composted garden and kitchen waste, leaf mould, peat moss and even coarse sand where necessary to improve soil drainage.

Clean Pots and Tools:

  • When all of the big jobs are done and you still have energy to devote to details, remember there are always stakes to be cleaned and put away; tools to be cleaned and sharpened; and plant containers to be emptied, cleaned and stored for the winter if you are so inclined.

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