Airdrie Horticultural Society


Fall garden care

It’s fall in the garden: summer’s blooms have faded and leaves are taking on their painterly hues.

But it’s not quite time to put away your garden gloves; there are still some chores that need to be done to prepare for the long prairie winter.

Rosa West, president of the Airdrie Horticultural Society, says the best way to prepare your trees, shrubs, roses and perennials for winter is by keeping them well watered all season.

“The rule of thumb is that your garden needs one inch per week,” says West, explaining although you can cut that amount down slightly as the weather cools, it is critical plants go into hibernation well watered.

“If your plants and trees still have leaves, you need to keep watering them,” adds West, noting well-watered roots give plants the best chance of making it through the cold season and the Chinooks our region experiences, which can be tough on the garden.

She recommends deep-root watering trees, especially within the first three years of planting them.

West, who sells roses at the Airdrie Farmers Market through her company Rose’s West, says it’s also important that perennials and trees aren’t given nitrogen – which stimulates new growth – after July 31.

She advises gardeners to use a 0-10-10 on any newly transplanted plants in late summer and fall to help them establish their root system, and for overall health.

West, who earned a horticulture certificate from Olds College, says garden clean-up doesn’t have to be a lot of work. In fact, she recommends against cutting perennials back before winter.

“We want to keep anything that might come back next year,” she says, explaining sometimes roses and other perennials can sprout from the previous year’s growth. “And the perennial greenery provides extra protection for plants and traps the snow, which helps insulate.”

West advises Airdrie gardeners to also leave fallen organic matter on flowerbeds. Doing so provides insulation, adds nutrients to the soil and provides a place for ladybugs, which are predators for many harmful bugs, to overwinter.

The one exception to leaving organic matter on the garden is under lilies to avoid the overwintering of Japanese lily beetles, which can decimate lilies in just days.

West, whose stunning Airdrie garden is pesticide and herbicide free and contains plants – such as zone five roses, wisteria, grapes, and a tri-coloured beech – that many consider too tender to grow in Airdrie, also spreads peat moss on the soil and grass where, like the leaves, it decomposes and improves the soil over the winter.

She also recommends gardeners “snow farm” over the winter months to help protect plants. The practice involves moving snow onto flowerbeds and over the roots of trees.

The best advice West has for gardeners preparing for winter is to not worry too much.

“A lot of people get stressed out about the rules; then they don’t garden,” she says. “Don’t be [stressed]; you will learn as you go.”

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