>> Margaret Hantiuk

This fall, don’t be so quick to rake your leaves up and give them away to the municipality to compost: save them for your own leaf mold, one of the best soil enhancers – for free I now rake leaves off of my lawn, sidewalks and patio straight onto my garden beds! I am not just a lazy gardener: the leaves provide protection from frost and eventually they break down to mulch that is so necessary during our dry summers. Exceptions are Black Walnut leaves which have a growth deterrent and shouldn’t be spread over other beds. Leaves collected off the streets can be used in flowerbeds but are not for growing food because of possible contaminants from vehicles. If you have plants with serious bug infestations or disease (‘black spot’ in roses for one) it is best to remove their leaves, bag them and dispose of them.

It is important to not bury ‘crowns’ of perennials and tree/shrub trunks. Let them breathe: it’s like putting the plants to bed, and not covering their heads!

Many gardeners like a tidy look, so it is a huge shift to think of their garden as an eco-system and themselves as its steward. Saving and using your own leaves, and making your own compost (open piles for non-food materials such as garden waste, and compost cones, or the new rotating barrels, for food scraps) gives you an ongoing source of mulch that deters weeds and cuts down your summer water bill.

Another vital aspect of the garden as an ecosystem is wildlife habitat. Don’t cut back all the stalks of your perennials as the seeds provide food for birds. (An exception would be any plant that is an invasive seeder). Try leaving some fruit for birds.

Now is the time to move tender plants indoors: truly tender can be cut back and placed indoors in sunny windows; marginally tender can be cut back and placed in south facing porches and greenhouses. I have hardy potted succulents that I take off of my deck and place on the south side of my house under the eaves, as they can take our cool winter weather, but not the rain. All containers should be lifted so that they drain in the rain. Any pots without drain holes should be kept out of the rain entirely as they can freeze and break.

Those of you lucky enough to have sunny, protected spots where you grow winter veggies should be ready to cover them if temps get too low (no arctic outflow winter fronts are predicted yet).

Now is also the time to consider the ‘design’ of your garden: what to move (in early spring), trees and shrubs that will need pruning next year (easier to see with leaves off), where you might like to grow something for winter window viewing delight (plants with fall colour, winter blooms, berries, interesting bark) and where conifers or broadleaved evergreen shrubs might be nice (maybe as screens for privacy or to hide something). You can also start planning your next veggie garden, flowering beds, pots or new hardscape, perhaps on a patio where you can enjoy the outdoors?