October is a wonderful time to refresh and renew our gardens, from the tiniest patio right up to those streetside plantings.October is a wonderful time to refresh and renew our gardens, from the tiniest patio right up to those streetside plantings.Read MoreThe Vancouver Sun – RSS Feed

October is a wonderful time to refresh and renew our gardens, from the tiniest patio right up to those streetside plantings.

If you’re unsure about which shrubs can be pruned now, simply look for the buds. Photo by Iuliia Burmistrova /Getty Images/iStockphoto

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On the way to a speaking engagement in Vancouver a few days ago, I had the chance to drive through many different neighbourhoods and see some great gardens.

The recent rains we’ve enjoyed were life saving for so many lawns, trees and plants, but they also drew down the curtain on our season for a lot of annuals and perennials.

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Even the street plantings and roundabouts, many added by folks who volunteer their time to beautify their curbside areas, looked a little tired.

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October is a wonderful time to refresh and renew our gardens. This can be done in many different ways, but the idea is to replace a tired look with the promise of fresh gardening opportunities going forward. This is true for the tiniest patio right up to those streetside plantings.

One of the first things we all need to do is a garden tidy-up. Spent annuals can now be composted and those areas made ready for fall and winter colour. Adding fresh organic matter and loosening the very compacted soil with fine fir or hemlock bark mulch will make a huge difference during our inevitable heavy winter rains.

So many perennials that provided great summer colour are also on their downward cycle now and should not only be pruned back but enhanced with some organic nutrient like Sea Soil.

If these areas are missing fall colour, planting late-blooming perennials would keep the sequence of colour going. Fall asters, late blooming heleniums like Embers, with its lovely fall tones, and the striking, deep blue caryopteris would be great candidates.

It’s also time to plant late-fall flowering perennials, such as helleborus niger, with their beautiful white blooms. All of these are great pollinator plants as well.

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Many of our flowering shrubs need attention this time of year, too. It’s important to remember that for many early and midseason flowering shrubs, next year’s buds are now in place for their spring show. Macrophylla hydrangeas are a prime example. Pruning now will cut off most of the blooms and ruin next spring’s display. At this point, simply cut off the spent blossoms, leaving the buds below to provide lots of colour for late spring, summer and early fall next year.

Arborescens varieties like Annabelle and Proven Winners’ Invincibelle and Incrediball series can be cut back and tidied up now because they produce buds on new growth. The spectacular PeeGee (paniculata grandiflora) hydrangeas can also be pruned back when those spectacular pink and white blooms are finished.

If you’re unsure about which shrubs can be pruned now, simply look for the buds. Weigelas, most mid-to-late blooming spireas, and the many physocarpus or Ninebarks, with their multicoloured foliage, can all be pruned back to a better shape now, and still flower nicely next year.

If you have gaps in your garden palette this time of year, it’s a great time to add new colour for the next two seasons.

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Some of my favourites are viburnum Pink Dawn, fragrant yellow Witch Hazels, and all the winter flowering sasanqua camellias. Many of these have long blooming periods to be enjoyed over a four-to-five-month period, when we need colour the most.

After a very hot, dry summer, all your shrubs need to have the soil around their bases reinvigorated, and ideally be fed with something like Flower & Vegetable 10-15-19 with micronutrients. This will help harden them off the winter and add a much-needed boost to their general well-being.

Lawn areas could use some help, too, but we need to act fairly quickly here. The recent rain did bring back a lot of green, but many grasses died off and overseeding now with perennial rye grasses will help replace that green with a more heat and drought tolerant variety.

Be sure to thoroughly loosen the existing soil and add a generous amount of blended soil mix (where you’re overseeding) to help the new seed become established. Many folks are now also adding micro clover or Dutch white clover to their seed mix to retain a better green colour in the hot, dry summers.

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Once all these caretaking chores are completed, your garden will take on a new complexion. The empty annual areas could be revitalized with winter pansies and violas. It’s a great time to get them in and well established to go through winter for an even more brilliant display in February as the temperatures begin to warm up.

Use the Matrix pansies, as they are the most cold-tolerant, and all violas are incredibly winter hardy, resilient to both the cold and wet conditions we know are coming.

It’s important to use vivid colours that will show up better in the shorter, darker days ahead. Whites, soft and deeper yellows, and orange colours will provide the greatest “pop” for you. There are some new pansy colours like the citrus mix, clear mix, and pink shades, which will create a more sophisticated look, while still being quite vibrant.

To enhance their look, evergreen carex grasses such as the c. EverColor series — which includes Everest, Everillo, Everglow, and the old standby, Evergold — will add a significant lift to any pansy plantings.

The last consideration is our front deck planters. For a lasting winter display, try to combine a blend of colourful broadleaf plants, evergreen perennials, and spill overs of year-round grasses.

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I like to use a narrow Japanese holly like ilex Sky Pencil as a focal point. Leucothoe Rainbow, pieris japonicas like Mountain Fire, and nandina Gulfstream are great as accents. I love the evergreen perennial euphorbias like Ascot Rainbow and e. Wulfenii, not only for their bright foliage, but also their stunning lime-coloured flowers in spring.

If you have room, try to add some of the many colours of hellebores for an extra layer of richness and texture. Spill-over grasses like blue fescues and the many carex varieties add a perfect finishing touch.

Incorporating an artistic piece of driftwood or other branches also enhances your plantings, especially if you add clear LED lights for night viewing.

When we get nearer to the Christmas season, adding in some berry stems and cut Christmas greens will nicely shift the season.

Gardens have a far greater impact on our health and well-being than we realize. A seasonal change now will make a big difference both to you and your family, and the neighbourhood.

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