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Winterizing Your Garden
by Brian Minter
by Brian Minter


Brian is President of Minter Country Garden, an innovative destination garden center and greenhouse growing operation. He is a gardening columnist, radio host, international speaker and author.

His website is located at

December 10, 2006

Flower Gardens:

This is the last call for all tender plants to be moved into protected areas. All geraniums, fuchsias, heliotropes and colocasias should now be in areas free from frost, and tropical plants, like hardy bananas and palms, need to be wrapped properly and mulched for protection. The recent frost has taken its toll on the majority of garden annuals and herbaceous perennials. They will make great compost, but removing them will leave your garden looking rather bare. Winter colour plants, set out now, will add new life and provide much needed colour to your winterscape. Planting in groups of threes, fives or sevens and using contrasting blocks of bright colours, like yellows, oranges and whites, will create the most pleasing effect. Groupings of beautiful winter-flowering heathers, violas, pansies, evergreen perennials, colourful conifers and berried plants, placed here and there in your garden and close to your walkways, also make a tremendous improvement in your winter garden.

It is still the ideal time to plant your fall bulbs. Plant them in well-drained soil at a depth of three times the diameter of the bulb. Plant bulbs in groupings for the most pleasing effect. With a little planning, you can time your bulbs to bloom in sequence from January through June. I’m a big fan of botanical or species bulbs that naturalize easily and come back each year with an even more impressive display. Make sure you have at least a few alliums for a great late June show.

It’s also the last call for lifting and protecting summer bulbs. Gladiola corms and begonia tubers should have been lifted by now, and they must be kept warm. It is also time to lift dahlia and canna tubers.

Vegetable Gardens:

Many late vegetables and perennial herbs can stay in the garden for winter harvesting. These include turnips, parsnips, Brussels sprouts and Swiss chard. If you do not have proper vegetable storage, you can place a thick mulch of bark over your root crops and leave them in the ground as long as possible.

Fall is a great time to add existing compost to your garden, and there is still time to plant fall rye for invaluable green manure in the spring. Speaking of compost, make sure you take full advantage of all the leaves, old annuals and vegetable stems by composting them over the winter. You might also wish to add more sand and bark mulch to your vegetable garden to improve the drainage next year.


Cut your lawns quite low one more time to allow more air circulation in and around the root systems. This can prevent many disease problems. To discourage moss from taking over your lawn, maintain a high level of nutrients by applying a controlled-release, high nitrogen fertilizer, something like a 25-3-7 formulation, and by applying Dolopril lime at the rate of 10 kilograms per 2000 square feet to prevent acidic soil. It is too late now to seed new lawns, but aerating and sanding now would sure make a huge difference.

Trees and Shrubs:

Roses should be lightly pruned, stripped of leaves and mulched well over their bud unions. Now is the best time to plant most evergreens, fruit trees and shade trees. They are becoming dormant and, once planted, they will immediately form new roots. By spring, they will have well established root systems. Two points to remember:

  1. The quality of the soil in which you plant your new trees will determine how well your trees grow. Work in plenty of fine bark mulch to open up and provide good drainage in our heavy clay soils.

  2. If your trees are in burlap sacks, you should leave the sack on the rootball – it’s holding all those roots together!

  3. Bare root trees can now be planted safely. They will make new roots, getting them off to a great start come spring.

Evergreen hedges, planted now, will provide a good windbreak for cold winter winds, thereby helping reduce your fuel bill. As well as acting as a sound barrier, hedges will also give you privacy and at the same time, beautify your home. So all things considered, an evergreen hedge is an excellent investment.

Many fall flowering trees and shrubs can be planted now to provide winter beauty. These include viburnum ‘Pink Dawn’, autumn flowering cherries, Chinese witch hazel, ornamental grasses, jasmine and the many varieties of berried plants to name just a few. It is critical that you begin organic dormant spraying with lime sulphur and dormant oil in mid-November to control insects and diseases which overwinter in your trees. If you detest weeding between trees and along borders and walkways, apply the pre-emergent herbicide 'Casaron' in November around your trees to prevent weeds for an entire year.

We are now entering a brand new season, and it is so nice to have our lawns and gardens in shape for the coolest and wettest time of the year. The addition of winter colour is a pure bonus – one you will appreciate more and more as winter progresses.

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