Use this fail-proof checklist to ensure a beautiful garden come spring

By Mark Cullen, Toronto Star

As gardeners we must deal with deadlines all the time. The deadline now looming before us is winter. We can go south to escape the cold and wind but your garden does not have that option.

I offer you my comprehensive autumn to-do list for gardeners. It is designed to be clipped and hung on the refrigerator or wherever. Put it somewhere that it will remind you regularly what you must consider in order to enjoy a great-looking outdoor space come spring.


Fertilize your lawn. This is the most important application of the year. The nutrition that your lawn receives this time of year will not produce a great-looking lawn this fall, but it will strengthen the grass roots and prepare the plants for a fast green-up come spring. The results will be less snow mould and a stronger, green lawn after the spring melt. Look for a slow-release nitrogen product, like Golfgreen fall formula, for best results.

Cut your lawn (soon for the last time!) about 2 1/2 inches (6 centimetres) high.

Lubricate your lawn mower, sharpen the blades, clean the cutting deck and spray with oil.

Rake leaves off your lawn. Put them on your perennial beds and veggie garden, where they will break down and add to the organic matter in your soil.


Dig up your carrots, leeks, leftover potatoes, etc. and store in bushel baskets half full of pure, dry sand. Put in your basement or fruit cellar.

Pull up your remaining tomato plants and hang them in the cellar or garage while the green fruit ripens. They do not need light to do this.

Harvest the remaining leaf lettuce, mesclun and the like.

Remove the spent bean and tomato plants, etc. and put in your compost.

Compost and Leaves

Put spent annual plants in your composter or compost pile in layers with fallen leaves (shredded with your lawn mower). Alternate one part green stuff with three parts leaves.

Remove any finished compost from your unit or pile and spread it over your perennial bed or veggie garden. No need to dig it in; the worms will pull it down next spring.

Steal leaves from your neighbours who have not yet seen this column and have put their leaves out at the curb in neat paper bags for yard waste pickup. Take them home and compost them yourself. Free fertilizer.

Plant Holland tulips, daffodils, crocuses and the like. I do not mean to gloss over this as you could spend days planting bulbs in your garden this time of year. Daffodils and narcissus should be planted within the next couple of weeks for best performance come spring. Tulips can be planted any time, as long as the frost has not entered the ground and made digging impossible.


Begin thinking about winterizing roses that are not of the shrub type. Hybrid teas, grandifloras, floribundas, etc. will need about 50 cm. (11/2 feet) of fresh triple mix piled up from the bottom.

Wrap spiral plastic collars around the trunks of young fruit trees to protect them from rodent damage. (Actually, this can be done any time of the year.)

Spray broad-leafed evergreens with Wilt-Pruf (an antidesiccant) to prevent the drying effects of winter wind.

Once you are finished with your digging and cutting tools for the season, wipe them all down with an oily cloth.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster.

First published in the Toronto Star on October 22, 2011.

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