Published in the Toronto Star November 19, 2016
Those of us who love the outdoors and enjoy puttering around the yard are always looking for an excuse to do something in the fresh air. This column is not for you. This is for those who thought that they were done with the lawn and garden. To you, a question: Have you taken care of the following? If not, it is in your best interest to do so.
- Wrapped cedars with two layers of burlap. It is as predictable as the Leafs post-season: we get burned. Cedars nearest a road (and on the east side of it, especially where they are susceptible to westerly winds full of salt spray) are most vulnerable. Wrap them with a layer of burlap to prevent the permanent damage of salt and wrap them again to protect them from the drying effects of the wind, especially if they are exposed to the north or west.
- Fertilize your lawn. This time of year provides an opportunity to apply the most important application of lawn food. Why? Your lawn will absorb the nutrients of a fall lawn food before it goes to sleep for the winter. Like a bear that forages before bedding down for the winter, your lawn stores nutrients and sugars in its roots right now in anticipation of the long cold winter ahead. Look for a fertilizer formula, like 12-0-18, with high potassium (third number) and slow release nitrogen (first number).
- Protect fruit trees. If we get an average dump of snow this winter (which we did not last year) bunnies and mice can do a lot of damage to fruit trees that are less than 6 years old by nibbling away the bark with their rather sharp teeth. With little to fill their tummies in winter, they resort to this sort of thing. “Bark is better than nothing.” they must be thinking. Wrap the trunk of each tree with a plastic spiral that extends about a metre up the trunk. After about 6 years or so, the trunk of most trees has become too tough even for rodents to enjoy. Be sure to wrap crabapples and flowering cherries as rodents don’t know fruiting from non-fruiting trees that flower.
- Compost. All of your leaves are down and you no doubt have raked them off your lawn and on to your garden as I instructed earlier in the season. Good. If you have a compost pile or bin, now is an excellent time to empty the contents onto your garden. Spread it with a rake and let it sit there over the winter. Come early spring, earthworms will pull the raw compost under the surface of the soil and convert it into nitrogen-rich castings (poop). If you have not built or purchased a compost, now is a good time to do it as there is no shortage of yard ‘waste’ (actually a ‘resource’), grass clippings and fallen leaves to fill it.
- Bring in the pots. Using a stiff brush remove the loose dirt from inside the pots that you used all summer to grow annuals and vegetables. Some people dip them in warm soapy water and scrub them clean but really, these may be your babies but they are not babies. Store in a weather-free zone like the tool shed or garage.
- Clean bird feeders. And bring in the hummingbird feeder that has not seen a visitor other than the odd wasp for a couple of months now. Optimistic as I am, I don’t anticipate seeing a hummingbird around here until mid spring. Clean them in warm soapy water. While the feeders are not your babies, the hummingbirds are. Clean all of your bird feeders to help reduce risk of disease this winter. Soap and water.
While we are on the subject, I recommend that you give your power lawnmower some attention. Gas goes bad over winter: remove it. Remove the spark plug connection, scrape out excess grass from the cutting deck and spray the deck with oil. Wipe it down and give it a hug. You won’t be seeing it until early next May.
Be sure to turn off the outdoor water faucets at the source (likely in the basement) to avoid freezing.
Clean out your eave troughs. Most of us don’t do this until rainwater falls on our head as we leave through the front door. Best to do this now while the leaves are down and the leaves in your eaves are not frozen.
Rhododendrons and other wind-sensitive evergreens like taxus (yews) and boxwood, are best protected with one application of Wilt-Pruf. It prevents the drying effects of wind and extraordinarily low humidity during a Canadian winter. Save what is left in the bottle to apply to your fresh cut Christmas tree. It works better than ANY preservative.
Done? Now relax. You have effectively battened down the gardening hatches for another season.