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COLUMN: It's time to bury those bulbs before it's too late

Master gardener John Hethrington offers tips for fall garden clean up and planting
John Hethrington is a Master Gardener living in Meaford where he tends 20 different gardens.

There's a hotly contested debate about fall garden tasks versus spring garden tasks. Master gardener John Hethrington chooses fall for his big clean-up. Here are his tips for your home garden chores in October. 

After a warm, no, it was a hot summer, plus some lovely summer days in September, fall is definitely here with a possible risk of frost.

There is much talk in the fall about “putting your garden to bed,” I think they mean preparing your garden for the winter. There is an annual argument among
gardeners as to whether you should cut back your perennials, ornamental grasses, etc., in the fall, or leave them tall for “winter interest”, and to feed the
birds. However, up here, most perennials are covered by two feet of snow, so you can’t see them anyway and there are no seed heads for the birds.

Spring clean-up can be daunting. There may be wet weather or a late spring. For these reasons, I am opting for a big fall clean-up again this year to get a jump on spring 2024.

I say it’s time to trim back perennials and divide them as needed for your garden, or to give to your neighbours, or to pot them up now and put them back in the
ground for the St. George’s plant sale in June 2024. Plant donors get an income tax receipt for the value their plants sell for, if you donate 15 or more plants.

When digging and potting up, always make sure it is a cool, cloudy day and add bone meal fertilizer to the pots, or to your new plantings.

Remember, October is a great time to plant perennials. They get a big jump on plants planted next spring.

Buy and plant spring flowering bulbs. Add a little bulb fertilizer, like bone meal, to the bottom of the hole and add water to the hole to get the bulb’s roots started.
Your efforts now will bring big dividends in April and May 2024.

For a longer bulb bloom season, plant a variety of bulbs, like winter aconite, snow drops and crocus to start the season. You can also plant early, middle and
late-blooming tulips and daffs for a much longer bulb season. 

Place chicken wire just under the surface of the soil over any tulip bulbs you plant. The squirrels will hate you. Daffs should not need this protection.

If there is an early frost warning this fall, cover tender annuals overnight with an old bed sheet. They should make it through the night and keep on blooming.

Bring in house plants when the evenings start to cool down, or if you get a frost warning. First, give them a thorough spray with insecticidal soap, so that there
are no unwanted hitchhikers coming into your home.

Fertilize lawns with a “high” first number, no “second” number and lower “third” number or with a “fall formula” fertilizer. Don’t use that fertilizer left over from
the spring.

Start cutting your grass much lower than in summer to avoid winter-matted long grass next spring that you will have to rake out.

Water shrubs, evergreens and trees weekly and deeply at least until frost.