Putting your landscape to bed for winter

We are well into fall, the weather is shifting, and it’s a perfect time of year to consider how to prepare your landscape for the winter, or how to put your landscape to bed for the winter. What would this look like, and how would this differ my current approach? That is a great question, and you may be surprised to read my opinion.

My approach is best explained by first looking at the big picture or macro. If we take a look at your landscape and prioritize the different parts or elements of this, we soon realize that your soil is likely to top tier of what influences or dictates plant health. Without good soil health (the presence of the complete soil food web), most of your plants may appear to struggle.

Soil life (not the minerals of sand, silt, clay) at its microscopic level is made up of two distinct groups, bacteria and fungi. Both are essential to plant health. The balance between these two is often out of alignment as soils are disturbed through land development (which is often ecological destructive), the creation of landscape areas and even weeding of beds.
If we look at the image below, we can see that over time, the above-ground succession in an area is related to the below-ground changes. Fungal organisms do not take well to disturbance, while bacterial organisms take this all in stride.


Image credit: Steve Diver Farm Superintendent at UK Horticulture Research Farm

For most of our landscape applications (turfgrass or landscape areas), our ideal or sweet spot is to have a balance of 1:1 bacteria vs fungal biomass. In this setting, weeds will seldom germinate, and your young trees, shrubs, perennials and annual vegetables will be provided with the nutrients that they require at any given moment. Soil biology is a vast rabbit hole of information and a good topic for a later post.

Importance of Fungi in Human Life:

• The majority of grasses and trees require a mycorrhizal relationship with fungi to survive.
• Fungi not only directly produce substances that humans use as medicine, but they are also versatile tools in the vast field of medical research.
• Some fungi attack insects and, therefore, can be used as natural pesticides.

*List from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-biology/chapter/importance-of-fungi-in-human-life/

So what has this to do with fall and winter gardening? Well, the peak growth periods for fungal organisms are the fall and winter, and in most landscape settings, this fungal content is lower than ideal, so that our ratio is much lower than it should be. If we look at this time of year through the lenses of fungal organisms, we get a better sense of what practices might help support fungal growth.
Things we can do:
• Leave the dead or dying stems of your perennials or annuals in place until the worst of winter has passed. For us, that is often January or February, at which time we cut down plants and apply composted mulch.
• Avoid cultivating/disturbing your soils, keep your soils covered with either vegetation (ground cover, perennials, cover crop) or some form of compost or wood chips.
• Don’t remove plant debris, and any leaves your rake from your lawn can be applied to your landscape beds.
• Avoid using synthetic fertilizers for lawn and garden; use organic-based products that don’t contain salts. For a list of excellent products available on Vancouver Island check out the Gardeners Pantry

Jamie Wallace
Co-owner of Jaan Designs
Regenerative land designer, installer and educator