Pre-frost Gardening Tips
According to The National Gardening Association, Winnipeg’s frost-free growing season will buzz off on Tuesday, as unbeelievable as it may seem. Our Manitoba gardening expert Bev R. Bee shares seven things we can do this weekend while it’s swarm (a high of 24!) to take the sting out of winter, and help our planting efforts in 2021 bee successful:
1. Harvest time “When we consistently get frost at night, any vegetables you have on the vine stop growing. It’s time to bring in any green fruit to ripen inside. You could bring plants in overnight, but chances are they still won’t do any more growing.”
2. Start fresh “Dig up your garden and make sure your soil is dug over well. I go through all my garden beds and dig out any perennial weeds that might have taken. You don't want them to bug you in the spring. I also dispose of any diseased or pest-infested plants..
“Perennials can be cut down somewhat, but leave enough to collect snow to overwinter them. If I've got any plants that have obvious damage, or trees with loose branches, I gave them a quick and light prune. You don't want those branches coming down.”
3. Nurse perennials and trees like a queen “When you fertilize, be sure to water it in well. Most people don't realize that in the fall, you need to make sure you water your perennials so they're ready for winter. It can seem really cold in the air, but you need to water your perennials so that they're very strong for winter.
“I save some of the leaves I rake up to cover any tender plants that are staying in the ground. Leaves can harbour slugs, so some gardeners use burlap, but I’m not a big one to do that.
“Put up fencing like wire mesh or plastic forks - tine side up, or even bird cages or baskets to protect plants, trees, and shrubs from animals like rabbits (or deer, depending on where you live). Remember to factor in the potential height of the snow, because when those critters stand on it, they’ll be able to reach higher up than you think.”
4. Get that compost ready “Save food scraps in a stainless-steel pail, and collect leaves from your yard. Make sure your compost is well-layered and mixed. Clear a spot for the pile or bin that’s at least a meter wide, then alternate between layers of dried leaves and lawn clippings and kitchen scraps. Finished compost will be dark and crumbly and can take six months to be fully ready, but either way, turn this mixture into the soil to decompose until spring.”
5. Save those seeds “This time of year is my seed saving time. Saving seed from this year’s garden to plant next year is a long-standing tradition. It may seem like a little extra work, but it’s very rewarding and can save you money. If you save some seeds from certain vegetables, for example, you can help preserve a particular type, such as an heirloom variety. It can also help vegetables adapt to our local conditions, which can increase future harvests.
“The easiest seeds to save come from tomatoes, peppers, beans, and peas. To prep tomatoes for storage, allow the fruit to fully ripen on the plant, then scoop out the seed and pulp. Place in a container of water and leave it a few days, giving the water a little swish each day. The seeds eventually come free from the pulp and sink to the bottom. Rinse and extract the seeds on a strainer, then leave them to dry on a paper towel. When they’re fully dry, just keep them cool and dry in an envelope. It’s helpful to label your seeds carefully, with the name, variety, and date you collected them.
“Another thing I tend to do is make cuttings of some annual plants. We take cuttings of them now so I can overwinter them, so I can propagate more for any of my planters.”
6. Clean up and feed your lawn and garden “Clean up the yard, give it a rake, and prepare your grass while it’s still green. After you give your yard a good rake in, give your lawn that final cut - but not super short.
“Autumn is the best time to give your lawn a hearty meal - after the summer heat and before frost arrives so the grass can still absorb the nutrients. Grass may still be recovering from Manitoba’s hot summers, so give your lawn a shot of nitrogen to get the blades growing again while they can. Each fertilizer package has a label with three numbers, called its N-P-K ratio - a balance of three plant nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. A fertilizer with a formula of 20-8-8 will get the grass growing before the frost hits.
“In October you can apply a 13-25-12 ratio - more phosphorus to stimulate root growth as the ground can stay warmer than the air right up to December. This ensures your lawn will green up quicker in spring and will resist disease and drought.”
“Manitoba soil tends to have lots of clay, so you may also want to add a mixture of calcium and sulphur, or even granular turkey manure - which helps penetrate that clay and build healthy, nutrient-rich soil.”
7. You can still do some planting “Autumn is a good time to plant trees, perennials, or shrubs as long as the soil is warmer than nine degrees. Even after the air temperature is below zero, the ground will be warm enough well into October. If you plant a shrub or a tree, dig a hole bigger than the pot you got it from and add some fresh soil. This is all about helping the plant grow roots early, so remember to keep watering it right until the ground starts to freeze around late October.”
Hive a great weekend - and watch for the next time our Manitoba gardening expert Bev R. Bee flies in with more gardening tips.