Countryside Corner; Neighborly Garden News
Strategies for winterizing your garden in a shifting climate
You wouldn’t be wrong, if you thought that it must be difficult for plants to manage through the shifting temperatures and weather events that are moving our seasons askew. The prolonged heat through the fall, fools many plants into not going dormant, then abrupt cold can shock and kill tender growth. You won’t see the results until the following spring; when the plant fails to push new shoots along affected branches, leaving you with a lop-sided or dead plant.
Extended or over-lapping seasons also contribute to the rise of insect populations, and the influx of species that typically wouldn’t tolerate protracted cold. With fewer really cold nights, more insect pests are able survive and breed than in previous decades. Similarly the deer and rodent populations have bounded due to increased food supplies, and less predators.
The easiest method for protecting a plant is to always choose and plant a specimen suitable for its location. Your Countryside Landscape & Design professional can advise you on correct placement. Winter injury can be brought on by extreme wind and dryness, as plants will dry out due to their inability to draw water from frozen soil. To prevent this, Countryside Landscape & Design utilizes a product called Deer Defeat, which not only provides protection from browsing deer and other wildlife, but also acts as an anti-desiccant.
Deer Defeat offers year-round protection from browsing animals; deer, rabbits, and groundhogs, and provides winter protection from cold and desiccation. Deer Defeat does not have to be re-applied after rain, like other products. For best winter protection, a second application in January or February is recommended by the manufacturer. The spray will be dry to the touch in about 15 minutes, but will need about 4 hours to fully set up. It will protect those tasty flower buds, on Lilacs, Azaleas, and Rhododendrons, that the deer seem to crave, as well as anything evergreen, like Arborvitaes, Junipers, and Hemlocks.
Alternatively, some folks prefer to erect a physical barrier as both winter protection and browsing deterrent. Countryside Landscape & Design can custom build covers for your plants that you can re-use each year. These covers help keep heavy snow and ice loads from breaking and smothering your plants, and limits access by browsing animals. The shrub covers fold flat for easy storage.
Wrapping oversized shrubs in burlap, or erecting a wind break, may be another solution for cold protection. Temporary winter deer fencing, to keep the animals away from your yard, works well for areas with known deer runs (trails that they are known to travel on). But the fence works only if it is not breached, so it is best to check it regularly, making sure there are no gaps. Deer will test and retest a fence until they locate a weak spot, doing so to gain entry to a food source. You need to be as vigilante as they are persistent.
Winterizing roses is worth the extra effort, as they are vulnerable to attacks on two fronts. The rose stems can die back entirely from cold, and mice and voles can eat the entire root mass over the winter, once there is consistent snow cover to hide them. Using a natural castor oil solution, to water the ground around each rose plant, is one organic method of repelling moles and rodents. The solution needs to soak into the ground, so it must be done before the ground freezes. If your rose plant is very large, mulching or covering may be impractical; I like to tie the canes together to prevent them from blowing and breaking through the winter. Shrub roses should have loose mulch placed over the crown and up to 8” deep, after the ground has frozen. Trim any overly long canes to 2-3’, and tie them up if needed.
October’s ‘to-do’ list
Fall garden cleanup is a multi-level task that often stops and starts according to our weather. The big push is to remove fallen leaves and plant debris. Plan on collecting at least some of the leaves to be shredded and composted into leaf mold, a free alternative to peat moss, it is a superb soil additive that will increase the water holding capacity of your soil. You can make leaf mold by bagging up your shredded, moist leaves, into sturdy trash bags. Allow the leaves to naturally break down into rich, crumbly matter; takes about a year.
Falling leaves mean it’s time to clean out your gutters before winter. Clogged gutters can create ice dams over the winter; which often leads to leaky roofs and big headaches.
Last call for spring and summer flowering bulbs; we only have about 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes, and that is just enough time for new bulbs to set down roots. Call Countryside Landscape & Design to place your order!
Keep mowing your lawn until it stops growing. Be sure to make the final cut of the year a short cut, so long grass won’t compact and smother itself under snow.
Plant garlic now for next summer’s harvest. Sow garlic cloves 1-2” deep, spacing them 6” apart. They may sprout a few greens before winter sets in, this is normal, and won’t affect next year’s crop. Mulch the row with a few inches of chopped leaves or straw to keep the garlic cloves protected from thaws and freezes.
Get ready for bird feeder season by cleaning out your feeders with hot soapy water, be sure to rinse very well. Try and leave some seeds heads on flowers and ornamental grasses to feed finches and other small seed eaters. The seed heads and leaves provide much needed winter interest too. The additional foliage also acts to insulate the crowns and offers a bit more winter protection for the grass plants.
Fall is the best time of year to apply lime to your soil. The natural freeze/thaw action helps physically move the mineral into the soil structure. If you grow vegetables, replenishing lime is an important component to maintain the fertility of your beds. Adding lime will alter the pH, or acidity/alkalinity of the soil. Incorrect pH, can limit a plant’s ability to uptake nutrients from the soil. Countryside can do a basic pH test to determine your needs.
Seven uses for fallen leaves!
- Mulch. Using your chopped leaves as a mulch instead of wood chips or bark mulch, will keep your siding cleaner. The fungal spores that can arise from decaying wood products have been known to dis-color light colored siding.
- Compost. Collect your fallen leaves and layer them with grass clippings or other green material, pine needles or straw, and soil. Your finished compost will be ready to use next spring.
- Recycle. Many municipalities will take your leaves for community composting. Garden clubs or neighbors may welcome your leaves for their composting projects. Countryside Landscape & Design will gladly accept your leaves free of charge!
- Education. Create a leaf collection to identify local trees and shrubs with your kids. You can mount your collection or upload to a tablet or phone.
- Art Projects. There’s a little Martha Stewart in all of us! A hot glue gun can be your ticket to creating centerpieces or seasonal wreaths, from your collection of found autumn objects and attractive colored leaves.
- Soil Amendment. Layer 6” of leaves on your garden beds, and using a tiller, work the fallen leaves into the soil. This will help with aeration of heavy clay soils, and aid in the retention of water for sandy soil.
- Insulate. Circle your plant with wire fencing material, and then stuff fallen leaves all around the plant you wish to insulate- right up to the top of the plant. This method will provide a few degrees of additional winter protection. Good for tender plants like blue flowered hydrangeas, whose flower buds seem to suffer over cold winters.
Having more time and less work in the garden is a goal for many of us, as we manage our leisure time. Wouldn’t having flowers that pretty much lived and took care of themselves, be fun? There are some very hardy annuals that do just that, seed, and then re-seed themselves year after year. A few are very vigorous, and you may have to intervene, by thinning the seedlings out, but on the whole they just very showy for a season, or until killed by frost. Here are a few that I’ve grown that can take our New England weather, and come back every year.
Ipomoea purpurea; Morning Glory ‘Grandpa Ott’, is a vigorous vine that would be a great plant to cover a banking, dead stumps, railings, or just about any sunny area. It produces hundreds of jewel toned flowers over the entire summer. Grandpa Ott has come back every year without fail at my home, and also at some properties we maintain in Williamstown. Morning Glory flowers will close by mid-day in the hot weather, but will stay open most of the day in cool and cloudy weather. Grandpa Ott can grow to 15-20’ ft vertically or horizontally! I recommend thinning seedlings to just a handful of the strongest.
Cleome hassleriana; Cleome, or Spider flower is a great plant for vertical appeal in your garden. They bloom in shades of white, pink, lavender and purple, and can grow to 48” tall. Part of their charm is the ornamental seedpods which give them their spidery look. Cleome will re-seed prolifically, and start to bloom in late June, continuing up to frost. Spider flowers are also very easy to transplant, so thin the seedlings and pot them up to give away to friends, transplant to bare areas of the garden, etc.
Papaver somniferum; Pepperbox or Bread Poppy will delight both you and the Goldfinches in your neighborhood. The pink-to-purple colored flowers begin blooming in May, and follow with interesting seedpods in late June/July. If you leave the seedpods intact, flocks of Goldfinches will arrive to snack on the nutritious seeds. These poppies grow in planters outside my dining area windows; and it was so sweet to watch the birds feeding every morning. Bread Poppies produce thousands of seeds, more than enough for the birds and next year’s flowers. Poppies like a sunny spot, and are not at all fussy about the soil type. Grows 2-3’ tall.
Nigella damascena, ‘Love-in-a-Mist’ flower has the most evocative name! This old fashioned bloom is not commonly seen, first utilized in England in the 16th century, Nigella makes a stunning cut flower. Blooming in shades of powder blue, white, pink and purple, the seedpods resemble striped balloons and are fun to pop. Grow 18-24” tall, very hardy flower, that re-seeds easily. The dried seedpods are good in arrangements as well.
Cosmos sulphureus or Sulphur Cosmos is a yellow form of the garden favorite, Cosmos bipinnatus (these are the pink, white or red flowered ones) Both Cosmos species are native to Mexico and South/Central America. Sulphur cosmos are the hardier specie, and will re-seed themselves if left in place. These bright blooms will grow in part-shade to full sun, and will grow to 36-48” tall. Cosmos are much loved by butterflies and hummingbirds, and will bloom right up to frost. They make wonderful cut flowers, and will also grow well in containers, if you should want to transplant extras around your yard.