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1. Leave your leaves

"Those are the best resources you have," says Janet McKay, executive director of Toronto-based forestry group LEAF.

Instead of going through the headache of raking, bagging and disposing of them, compost your leaves or turn them into mulch by running them over with a lawnmower - your soil will thank you for the nutrients.

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However, if they show signs of fungus or pests, take them to a leaf drop-off site - they could spell trouble for your lawn after the snow melts, says Deborah Sirman, co-owner of the Greenland Garden Centre in Sherwood Park, Alta.

"Insects can rehatch. You can introduce insect problems and fungal problems in the spring."



How does your garden grow? Lorraine Roberts, owner of Plant Paradise Country Gardens takes your questions on how to prepare your plants for the big chill, today at 1:30 p.m. ET.





2. Switch up the fertilizer

The product you use in the spring and summer may bring you a healthy, verdant lawn, but as you prep your yard for cooler weather you should try something different.

Fertilizer packages are labelled with three numbers: The first is for nitrogen (which encourages foliage growth), the middle is for phosphorus (which stimulates root growth) and the last is for potassium (which makes the plant strong).

In the winter, choose a lawn fertilizer that has a low first number and high second and third numbers, Ms. Sirman suggests. Fertilizer with a high level of nitrogen should not be used when the temperature drops, because on a warm day it triggers the grass to start growing but after a cold snap the grass dies, she explains.

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Share your tips Gather round, green thumbs Are you a master of mulch? A queen of the compost? Spread the seeds of your knowledge and help out your fellow gardeners.





3. Compost when it's chilly

While it's easy to keep composting going when the sun's heat allows for quick decomposition, you have to put more work into it when the temperature drops.

Charles Berry, vice-chair of the Nova Scotia Association of Garden Clubs, places his compost bin in the backyard facing south, so it can take full advantage of the precious few hours the sun is out.

If you don't want your pile to freeze, go big or go home: It has to be at least 120 centimetres squared to generate enough heat to make it work, Mr. Berry says.

4. Keep trees warm, moist

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Apply mulch around your trees, shrubs and perennials in the fall to provide insulation for their roots,says Lorraine Roberts, co-owner of Plant Paradise Country Gardens in Caledon, Ont.

Compost or shredded leaves are best for the job, she says. "A lot of people use bark chips, but those attract insects like earwigs and slugs and also deplete soil of nitrogen."

And don't retire your hose until the ground freezes, Ms. McKay says.

"Even though the trees are shutting down and ready to go into dormancy, there could be root growth happening." Newly planted trees require a slow drip from a hose for about 15 to 20 minutes, while mature trees could use water from a soaker hose for an hour or two once a week.

5. Plant now for spring

If you want a colourful host of tulips, lilies and daffodils to shake you out of the winter doldrums next spring, get cracking: You can plant bulbs until the ground freezes.

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"Squirrels may dig a little bit on top because the soil is loose, so plant them [20 centimetres]down," Ms. Roberts advises.

While labels on bulb packages may instruct you to plant each one 10 to 12 centimetres apart, Ms. Roberts recommends planting them in groups of three to five.

"It makes a bigger show," she says.

And don't do this Prune your own tree, because you might damage it by cutting at the wrong place with the wrong tool.

Watch the video



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Need some inspiration to whip your yard into shape? Look no further than The Muppet Show .

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Never doubt the lengths a nostalgic YouTube user will go to in order to relive his or her childhood. In this clip from 1979, guest star John Denver - in his heartthrob stage with that lustrous blond shag - croons about how "inch by inch, row by row [he's]gonna make this garden grow." And sure enough, the hypnotic chords the folk legend strums on his acoustic guitar bring a garden of Muppet foliage to life. Soon, a watermelon and harmonizing gladioli are swaying to the melody and providing back-up vocals to this classic tune about our symbiotic relationship with the land. It makes you want to change into some faded jeans, leave the pesticides, herbicides and fungicides behind, and get dirty with Mother Nature.

All it takes is "a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground?" Well, let's get started!

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