Luckily, all the hard work you put into your summer yard doesn’t have to go to waste. Just as we prep our homes to save energy in winter, prepping your plants for the change in season can help preserve them so that once the snow melts, your garden will bloom once more.
Follow these tips for how to winterize a garden and enjoy your landscaping season after season.
Start Weeding Early
The sooner you can prepare your garden for winter in Alberta, the better. While temperatures are still relatively temperate, grab your favorite weeding tool and get digging. An early start allows you plenty of time to clean out your garden beds and enjoy the last of the warmth.
Along with invasive weeds, make sure to also remove any dead, dying, or infected plants to prevent disease from remaining in the soil through the cold months. This also applies to vegetable garden beds—clear out all dead vegetation or rotten produce to prevent disease and pests from lingering.
Why go to the trouble of weeding your garden before winter if the freeze will likely kill those pesky invaders anyway? If you leave weeds behind, they’ll drop their seeds and incorporate into the soil. Once your garden thaws, they’ll reemerge in abundance—leaving you with even more work than you would have done the previous fall. So, getting a head start by weeding before winter hits will pay dividends months down the road.
Turn and Cover the Soil
After weeding, give your soil a good rake through to remove harmful pests that burrow for the winter and return in the spring to munch on your newly thawed plants.
Next, cover your soil. Both vegetable gardens and flower beds that include more delicate flowers like irises and black-eyed Susans require a thick layer of mulch or straw spread across the soil to insulate the roots. Add another layer after the ground freezes.
Stronger flower varieties such as hollyhock, peonies and bee balm often don’t need a winter soil blanket. Instead, water them deeply a few times before the season’s first hard freeze and cut them back if necessary (more on this step below).
Cut Your Flowers Back
Winterizing flower gardens differ from vegetable gardens in the amount of pruning you need to do before the cold arrives. While some flowers can be left intact, others (primarily perennials) typically do best when they’re cut to within one to two inches above the ground. These include peonies, irises and daylilies. These flowers are either more susceptible to blight or become limp and difficult to handle in the spring.
Look into the needs of your specific perennial variety to find out whether you should cut it back or leave it be. Regardless, always cut back dead or old growth when you prepare your garden for winter so that it doesn’t choke off new foliage come springtime.
Plant Bulbs for a Spring Bloom
Winterizing your garden includes planting bulbs for springtime blooms. Choose hearty fall bulbs and plant them in places where they’ll get plenty of sun before the snow arrives. Make sure to group them together—five to 10 bulbs per pocket should suffice—and remember to keep the pointy tops turned upward.
To get flowers like tulips blooming in April, you’ll want to plant them in the fall. Some other fall bulbs to plant before winter include crocus, bearded iris, daffodils and bluebells.
Wrap Your Evergreens
Many people likely don’t think about sturdy evergreen trees and shrubs needing protection—after all, a snow-capped tree is the very symbol of winter. However, if an evergreen gets too much winter sun but not enough moisture from the air and ground, it can experience “winter burn.” Winter burn manifests as patches of dry, brown needles throughout the tree. Young trees and shrubs are particularly susceptible to winter burn, as well as those that you’ve recently planted or deeply pruned.
To winterize your trees and shrubs, give them a good water before the first freeze and then wrap them in burlap to protect them from the sun throughout the winter season. You can also find special “shrub jackets” and plant protectors to take the guesswork out of how to properly fit the wrap around your tree or bush.
Protect Your Pots
There’s debate among horticulturalists on how to winterize a container garden. You may or may not have space to store them for the season and, even if you do, Alberta’s extreme temperatures can still throw a wrench into your best-laid garden winterization plans.
Ultimately, it’s your call on whether to try keeping your potted plants throughout the winter. If you have potted perennials, you likely can leave them in their containers and relocate them inside your garage or insulated shed. Cover them with a tarp to keep them dry and check their water every few weeks.
Annuals will be harder to salvage, so your best bet is to clear out all of the old roots and begin again in the spring. Most of the dirt will come up with the root ball, but you can leave whatever remains as long as you keep it dry throughout the winter. The ceramic pots themselves should be safe from cracking, especially if you wrap them up in bubble wrap for ultimate protection from the weather.
Solarize Your Garden
Despite the cold, you can still use the sun to your advantage during the winter. If you need to winterize a raised garden bed, consider solarizing it. This involves trapping heat in and around the soil, helping protect from the elements as well as creating an environment in which insects and pests can’t survive.
First, make sure the soil is damp. Then wrap a UV plastic tarp around your raised garden bed and secure it well. Periodically throughout the winter, rake in some compost to add nutrients back into the soil and water the dirt enough to keep it moist.
If you have the space, you can build or invest in a deep winter greenhouse that entirely removes the need to winterize your garden. With energy from the sun, your plants grow happily all season long in an enclosed, climate-controlled space built to withstand harsh Canadian winters.
Owners of deep cold greenhouses usually install a source of back-up heat in case the temperature drops too low for plants to survive. You can choose between solar-powered, gas-powered and electric heating systems. As your Alberta energy provider, we can provide the gas and electricity needed to keep your greenhouse plants warm should you opt for a natural gas or electric heater. If you have questions, feel free to give us a call at 1.866.420.3174.