Mark Cullen’s Gardener’s Checklist for Fall

Mark Cullen lets us know what to do once that cold wind starts blowing in.

To help you get a grip on fall, I offer you my comprehensive to-do list for gardeners. It is designed to be clipped and hung on the refrigerator, or wherever. Put it somewhere that it will remind you regularly what you need to consider in order to enjoy a great looking garden come spring.

If you would really rather just sit indoors and watch football, look at it this way: Your investment in a great looking garden is a partnership between you and nature. Without your cooperation, she is in charge. To get the results that you are looking for you need to do your part. For the next 6 to 8 weeks or so, this is it:


  • Fertilize your lawn – this is the most important application of the year. The nutrition that your lawn receives this time of year will not produce a great looking lawn this fall, but it will strengthen the grass roots and prepare the plants for a fast green up come spring. The results are less snow mould and a stronger, green lawn after the spring melt. Look for a slow release nitrogen product, like Golfgreen winterizer formula, for best results.
  • Cut your lawn (soon for the last time!) about 2 ½ inches or 6 cm high.
  • Lubricate your lawn mower, sharpen the blades, clean the cutting deck and spray with oil.
  • Rake the leaves off your lawn. Put them on your perennial beds and veggie garden where they will break down and help to build the organic matter in your soil.


  • Dig your carrots, leeks, left over potatoes etc. and store in bushel baskets ½ full of pure, dry sand. Put in your basement or fruit cellar.
  • Pull up your remaining tomato plants and hang them in the cellar or the garage while the green fruit ripens. They do not need light to do this.
  • Harvest leaf lettuce, mesclun and the like.
  • Remove the spent bean and tomato plants, etc. and put in your compost.
  • Pumpkins are 98% water. On November 1st I recommend that you drop it on your garden soil and chop it up with a sharp spade and turn it under the soil. Or put it in your compost. You don’t need to chop it up – the deep frost of November will turn it to mush.

Compost and Leaves

  • Put spent annuals in your composter or compost pile in layers with fallen leaves (shredded with your lawn mower). Alternate 1 part green stuff with 3 parts leaves.
  • Remove the finished compost from your compost unit or pile and spread it over your perennial bed or veggie garden. No need to dig it in as the worms will pull it down next spring.
  • Steal leaves from your neighbours who have not yet seen this column and have put their leaves out for recycling pick up, neatly pressed into paper bags for you to take home and compost. Free fertilizer.
  • Plant Holland tulips, daffodils, crocus and the like.


  • Winterize your roses that are not of the ‘shrub’ type. Hybrid Teas, Grandifloras, Floribundas etc. will need about 50 cm (1 ½ feet) of fresh triple mix piled up from the bottom.
  • Wrap spiral plastic collars on young fruit trees to protect them from rodent damage (anytime).
  • Spray broad-leafed evergreens with Wilt-Pruf® (an anti-desiccant) to prevent the drying effects of winter wind. (When killing frosts are here and just before the snow flies.)
  • Wipe down all of your digging and cutting tools with an oily cloth when you are finished with them for the season.

The air is clear and hopefully you’ll get some sunshine for your fall work days!

Mark & Ben Cullen
Mark & Ben Cullen

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster and tree advocate
and holds the Order of Canada. His son, Ben, is a fourth-generation
urban gardener and a graduate of the University of Guelph and Dalhousie
University in Halifax. Follow them at, @MarkCullen4
(Twitter) and @markcullengardening (Facebook) and look for their latest book, Escape to Reality.

Follow them at, @MarkCullen4, and biweekly on Global TV’s national morning show, The Morning Show.

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Posted on Sunday, November 5th, 2017

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