Here's a good, quick summary of what to do with your vegetable garden when frost threatens.
I can't tell you how many garden consults I did this year where people complained "My plants just don't seem to be doing very well. I want a more lush look." In particular, I had a lot of clients who had their gardens professionally landscaped 2-4 years ago and are not happy with the performance of their plants. When I ask them what they do to fertilize, they say "nothing." Many seem to think that putting bark mulch on top of their soil is enough. It is not. (For the people who had their gardens done 1-2 years ago, I also question the quality of soil that their landscaping companies supplied, but that is a subject for another post.)
Plants need food too! And by far the best way to feed your plants is to feed your soil. In terms of doing minimal work for optimal gain, I suggest putting a topdressing of 1-2" of compost on top of your garden as frequently as once a year if you can get to it, or at least every other year (let's be realistic here, we're all busy!) It just so happens that compost looks nice too - like beautiful, rich, dark soil.
When should I spread compost?
I find the easiest time to do this is in late late May/ early June, when all the plants are up and growing, but there is still enough space between them to make putting down compost an easy task. But really, it can be done anytime. I just did my front Shade Garden (above) this past week-end, because that's when I got around to it. (This area was newly planted this spring and yes I know it is a little bare still - it is a work in progress but at least it is easy to spread compost here!)
What about mulch?
Compost also acts as a fairly good mulch, in terms of helping to retain moisture in the soil, regulating temperatures and keeping down weeds. But bark mulch is better for that. If you have bark mulch, you can rake it off to the side, put down the compost, and rake the bark mulch back. Or, if you prefer to take the path of minimal work (this is what I would do!), there is nothing wrong with just putting the compost on top of the mulch. The compost will gradually decompose and work its way down through the mulch. Alternatively, whenever you are going to top up your mulch (this needs to be done every few years), put some compost down first then new mulch on top (I don't like this method only because it means you need to do 2 big jobs at the same time rather than spreading out the work - pun intended!)
If you have rock/gravel mulch, well then we have a problem. Compost on top of rock mulch is not going to look so nice. This is why I never recommend rock mulch to people unless they really, really like the look. It is just not as low maintenance as people think. If this is your situation, then perhaps pull back the rocks from around each plant and put some compost down around each plant - being careful not to have it touching the stems or leaves - then put the rocks back. Or get a water soluble, organic fertilizer and fertilize your garden that way. It's not optimal, but it's better than nothing.
I don't make enough to cover my garden. Where do I get compost?
Lots of places deliver by the cubic yard. Or you can pick up in bulk. I like Western Canada Compost in particular (they are not paying me to say this!) I talked to lots of people this year who were very unhappy with Burnco's compost, but that's second-hand information.
This may be my last post of the year for the vegetable garden, but I'm happy to say it was a darn good year. And today was a great day! It is September 25 and I've only lost a few zucchini leaves to 3o overnight temperatures a week ago. No frost. No snow. And no sign of it in the forecast. Lots of tomatoes still ripening on the vine. Life is pretty good!
Today I am picking the last of the lettuce which is starting to bolt and go bitter, and there are only a few peas left to pick, but scarlet runner beans, swiss chard, kohlrabi, carrots, beets and tomatoes are still in bounteous supply. I will be having a fresh tomato, basil and bocconcini salad for supper tonight. Is there anything yummier?
Next year I plan to install some brackets in order to put hoops and frost cloth over the raised beds to extend the season. But I want to put the brackets on the inside of the boxes, so this will be best done in spring. This year, I'll just be happy to be harvesting frost-tolerant chard, beets and carrots into October.
Now that I'm done the painting I'm trying to finish up last minute garden tasks while there's still time. One main fall task that is always on my September to-do list is to re-edge the border between lawn and garden, as it makes a nice, clean line to look at in the winter times when there's no snow cover (a frequent occurence here in Calgary!) This year I'm also cutting out a bit out of the back lawn to give it a new shape according to the arc-and-tangent design theme I told you about in spring. A defined shape that looks as if it was designed, rather than randomly applied, really does make a huge difference in pulling the garden together!
Here's what this corner looked like before:
Hi, I have just moved to Calgary, loving it. I am in a duplex, and next to me is a single house. They have about a 50-60 foot pine tree about 2 metres from my property, however the branches extend about 20 feet over into my front yard, they have killed my grass, and my birch tree is being squished. Also, in the back, their trees are tangled up in my wires which run to the house.
Whether or not you're a member, here's something you can do to help support the Society and it won't cost you a thing!
All you have to do is 'like' their Facebook page www.facebook.com/calhort by the end of September, and if they hit 1000 fans, everyone gets a free REAP coupon book. REAP's Little Green Coupon Book includes $2,000 in savings on green products and services ranging from personal care products and fashion to mattresses and building supplies.
Of course as additional benefit, you'll be more connected to fellow gardening enthusiasts and get regular updates on the latest and greatest gardening resources and events.
Now I realize why I've been so grumpy about gardening lately - not only do I not have as much time as I'd like these days, but also I have spent an inordinate amount of time painting this season. Paint colour affects the overall effect of the garden and it needed to be done, but painting certainly isn't as fun as actually gardening!
The trim used to be an ugly, faded yellow and I've been gradually painting it white and brown (above) for two seasons... there are a lot of windows... but I'm finally done! To celebrate I dug up two little sections of grass on the far end of the lawn to make a little more garden space ! :-) They're not fully planted yet though. More on that later.
Here's what it looked like before (below):
And even before that, the house was orangey-brown and yellow (below) - ugh!
And now finally my eyes can rest (I hate orangey-brown and yellow!) and I can spend the remaining gardening season moving perennials, picking tomatoes, trimming spruce branches, weeding (I'm waaaay behind on this!) and generally puttering about which is what makes me happiest! Hooray for getting the painting done!
You'll never believe what I did today.
The background: I've decided it's time to get rid of the last two spruce trees in the Adventure Garden that are interfering with my dream of achieving a balanced and beautiful garden. Don't worry, I will still have 3 other gigantic spruce trees in my backyard, not to mention many other trees and shrubs, not to mention the gigantic spruce trees in the front... But I haven't exactly informed my husband of this decision yet. I've removed a lot of trees from our large, mature yard in the last few years (for entirely justifiable reasons IMHO - they were half dead, too close together, too close to the house, etc.) and he's never really been on board but has let me do it. I'm not sure if he'd approve of any more.
So what did I do this morning? I got up early to start cutting down branches from those last two trees. (Yes, it was dark out when I started.) I thought I could do this weekly - a few at a time - every Friday morning so that I can get them tied up and taken away by the Friday garbage pick-up before he sees them. I'm sure he'll notice eventually, but I thought I could at least get started on tree removal without having to bother with trying to convince him this was a good idea. Unfortunately, Daughter #2 (5 years old) woke up early this morning and caught me in the act before I could get all the branches tied up, so I had to leave a few lying around for next week's pick-up.
I don't know about you but at this time of year, I almost want the garden to DIE ALREADY!
No, did I just say that? This just happens to be a busy time at work for me and I don't have any time to be out in the garden these days, and having to water the vegetable garden daily in this heat wave is getting to be a bit of a chore. On the bright side, thanks to this heat I am getting a great crop of yummy tomatoes which is the only thing keeping me motivated right now!
But enough of my grumpiness - it only comes from not having time in the garden. There are a few things that still need to be done this month and a few more that it would be nice to get done if the weather holds out and I can make the time:
TREES & SHRUBS
If you have more time than me, there are a few other things you could do listed on the Horticultural Society's website. Have fun!
Garden ornaments always seem to look better when they've got a little bit of foliage touching them. It's almost like Mother Nature says "Oh yeah, you think that thing looks nice? That's nothing! Let me show you what I can do!" Of course, Nature is probably much more polite than that. She doesn't need to be competitive, she just works her magic.
I haven't posted pictures of this garden area in over a month. I missed the whole lily season, not to mention gentians, potentilla and other things! Sheesh, what have been doing with myself? Oh yeah, going out of town on holidays, going out of town for work, taking care of sick kids, dealing with a leaky basement window, yadda, yadda, yadda. Good thing I mostly grow low maintenance perennials!
This is a garden that I am starting to make major changes to - you just can't see them yet. I've added a lot of shrubs this year to add some structure, but at this time of year the baby shrubs are smaller than the mature perennials, so you can't see the structure yet. As the shrubs get bigger I'm going to be moving the perennials to a different area of the front yard and this area will look a lot simpler and less busy.
To see what this garden area looks like at other times of the year, click here.
Yes, I know it's September already but I took these pictures a few days ago and haven't had time to post them yet. Are you looking for ideas for perennials that are showy at this time of year in Calgary? My Adventure Garden at this time of year is taken over by lots of late-bloomers such as sedum 'Matrona', rudbeckia 'Golden Glow',
and one of my all-time favourite plants, perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage.) All of these plants do well in a sunny spot and are drought-tolerant. They're also all low maintenance except the rudbeckia, which is a tall plant that needs staking.
To see what this garden looks like at other times of the year, click here and scroll down.