A Pacific tree frog hitched a ride into the Cox home on a houseplant. It spent the night on a potted plant and then began its ribbit-song in the morning on the window ledge behind the couch. John’s comment: “Gosh, that frog sounds like it is indoors!” The little guy was very gently gathered up and deposited back outside in an outdoor potted plant… after it had posed for a couple of photos. (photo by Leslie Cox)

Duchess of Dirt: Time to get cracking on those autumn chores

With the autumnal equinox now in our rearview mirror, it is time to wrap up the garden and prep it for winter.

Last winter was not long ago, so memories of what happened in your garden should still be fresh.

Warning: forecast is for another La Nina year.

Time to get the garden prepared for the coming ravages this winter.


Keep on with this chore, especially for shrubs and trees. The recent rainfall did not get down far into the soil. Digging in the vegetable garden, we noticed the soil was bone dry just an inch or two beneath the surface, two days after an inch of rain fell.

While the plants are looking refreshed from having a shower, their roots are still desperate for sufficient water. Your shrubs and trees need the best care as they head into dormancy in order to withstand the rigours of winter.


There are two trains of thought over this chore. Do you aim for tidy plants or leave the seeds for the birds? In my garden, the birds always win out. There are many species who are feasting to build their reserves for either a long migration or a cold winter spent here. But birds do not restrict themselves solely to seeds. They also gobble up insects. There are pest larvae present in numbers right now, soon to drop to the ground to pupate over the winter. Fall webworms, those black-faced orange caterpillars, for example.

Once the birds have depleted the seeds, and if the weather allows, that is when I will get busy on my dead-heading. But I also leave some plant material in the garden for beneficial insects to hibernate. (Female swallowtails lay their eggs in hollow stems like fennel, where they overwinter.)

Plant protection

If you have placed your houseplants outside for the summer, bring them in now. But check them over carefully before they cross the threshold, and treat with a blast of soapy water if you spot any pest bugs on them. Aim to bring your houseplants back inside a few days before you have to turn the heat on.

Next, dig up cannas, eucomis (pineapple lily), dahlias, and other tender bulb plants. Cut stems off and clean bulbs or tubers thoroughly. Cleanliness ensures successful storage, but be sure to store each species as per its preferences.

Look to your roses, clematis, and young trees. Are they adequately staked or tied against wind storm damage? The wind gusts the other day should have shown you which plants need some supporting.

It is not the ideal time to prune back roses, but I cut the taller branches off my ‘Abraham Darby’ rose once the cold weather is assuredly sticking around. Why now? Have you ever laid in bed and listened to rose thorns scratch across your window? Think fingers on a blackboard and I rest my case. Luckily, I get away with pruning out-of-season because this rose is on the protected side of the house and underneath the eave.

Have you planted your garlic yet? Get on it! We got caught flat-footed last year with the early frost and perpetual rain. We did plant garlic, eventually, but it was late. The harvest, while we did get one, was disappointing. This year we planted our garlic the day after the autumn equinox. One overnight low of 3 C was motivation enough.

And if there is any time left over, go ahead and think spring! Get those tulip and daffodil bulbs in the ground.

Go to my website (duchessofdirt.ca) for more fall garden chores and information on pear slugs, swallowtails, fall webworms, and ‘Vilma’ tomatoes.

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her column appears every second Thursday in the Record.

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