You’ve been working on your garden all summer, planting new plants and weeding the old ones. But with the winter season right around the corner in Calgary, your garden is probably looking a little less vibrant than last week. Don’t worry! You haven’t killed your plants, yet. With a bit of TLC, you can help your garden survive the winter with minimal damage to your plants.
Clean Up Old Foliage
While most dead foliage becomes good raw material for compost, some of it may attract insects and harbour fungi, pests, and other disease-causing agents. The disease will also spread if a plant has some infected part (like a blight).
So it’s necessary to prune your plants now and throw away most dead foliage, except the leaves and fruits you want to add to the compost. This way, there’s less debris for insects to feed on and cause potential harm to your plants. Also, never add diseased plants to the compost, as they can affect the new plants too.
Afterward, you can leave some better-spent crops in place. They will protect the soil from erosion and overwatering. Remember that you shouldn’t clean your garden beds thoroughly as good bugs also live there. Leave some spots near your flower beds as they are; striking a balance with cleaning is essential for their survival.
Weeds are a different case, though – they must be removed entirely. Simply tearing the weeds off the surface doesn’t work because most have deep tap roots so they may re-proliferate. Dig out as much of the root as possible; the rest will die from frost.
Side note- for veggies like broccoli or asparagus with strong roots that are hard to pluck (once you take the heads out), you can leave the rest in the ground. They don’t harbour bacteria or worms, keep the soil aerated, and decompose just in time for the spring season.
Some flowers like bee balm, creeping hostas, and phlox need to be cut. Do it once the ground freezes and the foliage dies. Only leave behind 3-4 inches of the stem, covering it with mulch for growing next year. Also, it is a good idea to leave plants like sunflower and rudbeckia for birds to enjoy.
When it comes to pachysandras, chrysanthemums, gladioli, and dahlias, it is good to cover them with lots of pine mulch. Plus, don’t forget to remove their blackened leaves for compost.
Now let’s start harvesting – we can divide veggies and herbs into three groups: tender, semi-hardy, and tough.
Tender veggies and herbs must be harvested before frost strikes, so you should get to it as soon as possible. These include basil, squashes, tomatoes, beans, pumpkins, peas, chillies, peppers, etc. Harvest the plant, clear all debris, and discard the diseased plants.
Semi-hardy vegetables can tolerate light frost around the freezing point. They will, of course, need protection from the snow (a cold frame or row cover is helpful). You can harvest them before January or whenever you anticipate extreme cold. Arugula, cauliflower, Swiss chard, and cabbages fall into this category, along with herbs like rosemary, oregano, and parsley.
Tougher vegetables that tolerate temperatures around -4°C and light snow without much protection include Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, broccoli, garlic, etc. Chives, thyme, and sage are sturdy herbs.
Root crops are different. Roots (turnips, beets, carrots, etc.) can withstand frost but must be dug up before the ground freezes. Potatoes in the soil do alright, but larger ones need to be dug up, dried, and stored.
Let’s do some gardening!
You can plant a lot of greenery during late fall so it blossoms during springtime. Butterfly bushes and tulips are gorgeous blooming plants that do well in winter and provide space for pollinating bees and butterflies. You may also want to plant garlic, turnips, and mustard greens at this time.
Cover Garden Beds
As the winter arrives, be sure to cover your garden beds with compost. This will help with plant growth during early spring. Add leaves to garden beds to help the perennials cope. Every plant, no matter how hardy, benefits from snow covering.
If you plan to start a fresh flower bed in springtime, cover the designated area with heavy plastic or straw mulch to avoid weed growth.
Mulching is beneficial once you water your plants before the first frost spell. It prevents water loss, protects against weeds, and prevents harsh winters from irreversibly damaging the stem and roots. Adding a thick layer of straw or pine mulch is good to help the soil cope with changing temperatures. Also, don’t forget to buffer root vegetables and flower stems with mulches.
Prepare Your Garden for Winter
This is the ideal time to prepare your garden for the cold weather and prolong your plants’ lifespans. Here’s our detailed guide on what to do while gardening in Calgary to tackle the frost.