Protect Your Lawn and Garden Through the Winter
Rain, snow, and freezing temperatures – it’s all part of winter in Ottawa. You can bundle yourself up or stay nice and toasty inside, but the frigid weather is taking its toll on your lawn and garden. What lawn and garden you say? Well, they’re out there, even if they’re covered in white stuff right now.
Even after you’re done being preoccupied with the holidays, there are still things you can do to help your outdoor space survive until spring and reward you with a beautiful and healthy display through the summer.
Start With What You Can
First, even if everything is covered with snow, check out the area and remove anything that’s on the lawn, like tree branches, hoses, or furniture. If there’s a thaw, rake up all the autumn leaves you didn’t get around to clearing.
And if it’s possible, mow cool season grasses like bentgrass, ryegrass, fine fescue, and bluegrass so they don’t harbor snow mold. If you are able to mow, leave the lawn and leaf clippings in place as mulch that will feed nutrients back into the soil.
There’s not much other Ottawa lawn care to do in winter except to keep an eye on the weather and water when necessary so that the root zone has the necessary moisture to maintain itself, especially just before a freeze. And do your best to stay off the grass because repeated walking or driving (you’d never do that, would you?) over frozen lawns can kill turfgrass crowns and leave you with bare spots in the spring. Then just make plans for what to do once everything thaws.
As for the rest of your garden, there are other tasks you can take care of when the weather permits.
Prune Perennials, Shrubs, and Trees
The cold months of dormancy are perfect for trimming perennial plants and pruning shrubs, hedges, and trees. Trees in particular pose a danger in winter storms, because snow-laden dead branches can snap off and harm people and property.
Large trees are best trimmed by professionals who are experienced in climbing and using heavy equipment. Trying to save a few dollars by pruning large or high branches yourself can come at the price of spending the rest of the winter with a cast on your leg.
If you’re going to trim a smaller tree by yourself, follow these guidelines:
- Decide on a plan. Are you trimming only to remove diseased, damaged or dead branches or are you shaping the whole tree to a more pleasing shape? Whatever you’re planning to do, identify the major branches that form the tree’s “skeleton” and avoid removing them.
- First remove broken branches. Then move along to those that are diseased or damaged.
- Thin out branches that cross or grow inward. For a tree to grow well, it needs light and air circulation. Branches that cross can do damage to each other, and any branches that are too close together can promote the growth of fungus and attract insects.
- Prune branches that are growing in odd directions. When the leaves are gone from deciduous trees, you can see if any branches are heading off by themselves.
- Remember that pruning is stressful. All trimming increases a tree’s vulnerability to disease and insects, so prune off just what’s necessary for the job at hand. In no case remove more than 25 percent of a tree’s branches, and make sure you leave living branches on at least two-thirds the height of the tree.
If you didn’t lay in a good cover of mulch around your trees and in your planting beds, it’s not too late. There’s plenty of winter weather to come, and mulch protects roots from harsh temperatures. Just be careful not to cover the trunks of shrubs and trees because mulch holds moisture and can cause rot.
Ottawa is in gardening hardiness Zone 5, and bulbs for spring blooming should have been planted by December, but if you missed the window, go ahead and plant them anyway because they’re not going to be as hardy if you save them until next year.
As long as you can get a shovel in the ground, plant the bulbs a little deeper than usual, and top with straw for insulation. If the ground is frozen hard, plant the bulbs in pots and water them just enough so that the soil doesn’t dry out. In spring, you can let them bloom in the pots or transplant them into the garden.