When Old Man Winter breezes in there are still lots of things to do to protect you garden. Here’s a helpful checklist to get you started.
Much Ado about Mulch
In winter, alternately freezing and thawing causes the ground to heave, thus exposing plants’ roots to frigid temperatures which can cause serious root damage. A good snow cover protects plants from this intermittent freezing and thawing, but then you can’t always count on a reliable snow cover. Mulch such as compost, straw or shredded leaves help moderate the swings in soil temperature. The important thing to remember is to mulch after the ground is frozen. If you do it too soon, you’ll create a nice cozy home for critters (like mice) to spend the winter.
Protect your Roses
All but hardy species roses should have some winter protection. There are as many ways to do this as there are gardeners. One way is to prune the rose back to about knee high and draw soil around the base of the bush to a height of 20 to 30 cm (8 to 12 inches). After the ground freezes up, draw some more soil up around the rose bush.
Dig Up Tender Bulbs
Summer flowering bulbs such as canna lilies, dahlias and gladioli should be dug up after the first frost blackens the leaves. Wash off any soil that still clings to them and air dry indoors for a couple of weeks. When completely dry, store them in dry peat moss in paper bags or cardboard boxes and keep them in a cool frost-free spot. Check throughout the winter and discard any that have mildew.
Resist Being Too Tidy
Resist the temptation to be too tidy. Many gardeners like to cut all their plants down to ground level. But, the seed heads attract and feed winter birds. And, if you mulched your perennials, the stalks will help to hold the mulch in place. The hollow stalks of some plants (like dahlias) should be cut down however, because they may harbour insects. Anything that is diseased should be removed and discarded.
Plant Some Vegetables
Yes that’s right, fall is a good time to seed some veggies. In spring, we’ve all gone out into the garden and discovered a carrot or some parsley growing where no seed was previously sown. Seeding at the end of the season can mean a crop two to three weeks earlier next year. Lettuce, carrots, parsnips, spinach, parsley and onions are often successful when planted in the fall. Timing is important and late season seeding should be done just before the ground freezes up.
Keep watering shrubs and trees right up until the ground freezes. Evergreens especially need a good store of moisture heading into the winter months. They don’t lose their leaves and continue to give off moisture throughout the cold months.
Who has time to look after garden tools in the height of gardening season? Winter is a good time to catch up on this chore. Sharp cutting tools do less tissue damage, keeping plants healthier and more attractive. Pruners, loppers, and other cutting tools should be sharpened regularly. Moving parts of cutting tools need to be lubricated. Clean tines or blades with a wire brush and steel wool. Remove all dirt and any traces of rust. Wipe the cleaned surfaces with a rag. Wooden handles are more comfortable if they receive a little maintenance. Sand any rough spots and apply a liberal coat of boiled linseed oil. Let this soak in for a few minutes, and then wipe off the excess.
Keep a Journal and Take Photos
Be sure to snap photos of your garden as winter approaches. Without foliage and flowers, winter is the time of year when the structure and design of your garden is most transparent, making it easier to plan changes. Make notes of what was successful this past season and what you’d like to change. Then, when it’s snowing and blowing outside, you can settle in with a glass of wine or a hot drink and thumb through your garden catalogues and magazines to get lost in the pleasure of planning next year’s garden.