Breaking down the garden, the Fall ritual

On Facebook, someone asked what I (or anyone in Buffalo, for that matter) do to "break down the garden" for the winter. My list looked like this:

On Facebook, someone asked what I (or anyone in Buffalo, for that matter) do to “break down the garden” for the winter. My list looked like this:

  • Outdoor furniture goes into the garage
  • Outdoor plants in containers go in the potting shed
  • Houseplants get distributed throughout the house (and re-potted as needed)
  • Canna, elephant ears and assorted other bulbs and tubers get cut down and put in peat moss in the basement
  • Annuals get cuttings taken and go into water or pots in a grow light in the basement
  • Marble & granite “carpet” in the patio gets covered
  • Delicate artwork gets stored (and repaired as necessary)
  • Fountains all get disassembled (and repaired as needed)
  • Garage has to be cleaned and organized so everything fits in it just right (I fit a car in there in the winter)
  • Grasses need to be cut down
  • Harry Potter Garden has to be taken apart and stored (signs, art, miscellaneous)
  • Window boxes have to get cleaned out and emptied
  • Cover the vertical succulent garden
  • Hanging baskets of annuals get dismantled and stored
  • Picnic tale & benches covered
  • Hoses have to come in and snow shovels moved toward the front of the garage
  • …and there’s probably some other things I’m forgetting.
Coleus cuttings get inside for rooting. Once
rooted, then in the basement under grow lights.

In spring, it’s the reverse.

Some commenters were afraid I’d scare newbie gardeners from even starting to garden. Others commented that it sounded like a lot of work and admired Buffalonians’ spirit and grit. I never gave it any thought. It’s all just work that comes with having a “more than ordinary” garden.

I’m always looking to do less (it’s my mantra) or do things more efficiently. I read Sally Cunningham’s column in the Buffalo News a couple weeks ago and am adopting her “triage” method of preparing the plants for thier winter break. She suggested grouping plants by type/needs:

  • Tropicals that are houseplants in one pile (to bee trimmed, re-potted, whatever…)
  • Cannas and tropicals that need to be cut down and stored
  • Zone 5 plants in pots (mostly hosta) in pots that need to go into the potting shed
  • Christmas cactus that stay out until right before first frost (to encourage blooming)
  • Tender annuals that get cuttings, and rooting indoors
The columnar apple tree in the front yard has
prodigiously produced this year. My wife’s
been taking the felled apples to the deer in
Forest Lawn Cemetery, just a couple blocks away.

And Liz, who is my plant spiritual guide at Urban Roots Garden Center made these suggestions:

  • Move begonias in NOW when the outdoor temps and indoor temps are the same (they’re delicate otherwise)
  • Don’t cut down and dig the cannas and other tuber plants out of the planters. Just cut them down in their pots and bring them into the basement and cover them with blankets.

It sounds like a lot of work, but I have just about two months to get it all done. our average first frost date is early October. And that’s just average. It’s been in th e90s this week here, so a frost isn’t in the foreseeable future. 

On the plus side, after this, I can take a break from gardening until May! What’s good for Zone 5 plants are good for me.

Spider plants will come inside, god knows where they’ll fit.
They grew a lot this summer..


I’ll throw a sheet a burlap over this to keep the harsh winds from drying it out.
Hostas to the shed, cannas to be cut down and stored in the basement.
A lineup of coleus to be cut for rooting, then composted.
I’ll wait until after first frost to clean out the window boxes and cone-shaped baskets.
They look too good right now.
Two fountains are disassembled so far. Here’s where the copper coral bell fountain was.
My favorite thing I did this year -and it was so easy! I “espaliered” the blackberry vines. It’s not a true espalier, you’d need a tree to make it real, but it makes a dramatic difference in the garden. I planted them strategically last year but they didn’t grow enough to train on the wires I put up. I had wire on hand, so I only spent a few dollars on good-sized screwing eye bolts. It took less than an hour to “install.”
Tender succulents have to come in. They’re liking this last burst of hot weather.
This is the pile that has to come indoors – cleaned up and re-potted. Even those that don’t have to be re-potted have to have the pots wiped down, some slow release fertilizer added, and check for bugs.
Last year my friend Lynn, who gave me two of these Christmas cactus kept me apprised of the frost potential so that I could being these in right before the first frost. It encourages winter blooming. It worked last year, no reason to change that! I’d had bad luck previously getting them to bloom.
Here’s the houseplants, waiting for their dolly ride into the house.
The hosta in pots go into the the shed for the winter, not because they have to, but because the pots are either plastic or terracotta and I don’t want them to do the whole freeze/thaw cycle, damaging the pots.
This banana tree, given to me a few Christmases ago by my niece Kristy – she grew from seed. It grew huge this summer. I’m not sure how I’m even going to get it into the house, let alone where it will sit.
Another fall ritual, adding a few mumms, they’re on the small side, so I moved the pedestals I made to the front porch.


Jim Charlier is an advertising designer/photographer/crafter with a serious gardening problem. He's co-written a garden design book featuring the funky, quirky and fun gardens by the gardeners of Buffalo titled "Buffalo-Style Gardens: Create a Quirky, One-of-a-Kind Private Garden with Eye-Catching Designs" (BuffaloStyleGardens.com); he writes a long-standing garden blog (ArtofGardening.org); led the largest garden tour in America, Garden Walk Buffalo; has written for, or provided photography for dozens of magazines and books; has made presentations and participated in panel discussions on garden design and garden tourism nationally and internationally.

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