list Downshift, and Prepare for Winter Now

At the end of my October 7th column, I promised a follow-up geared toward colder temperatures and more winter oriented objectives. While winter is still held at bay by the forces of nature, there are a variety of things to consider before her arrival.

If you've been enjoying fall planted mums, remember to hold off cutting them back until early spring, even if a hard frost has finally tainted them.

Visit local garden centers for fall sales. It's a great time to plant perennials, trees and shrubs, as well as bulbs, shallots and garlic. The shorter day length and cooler temperatures translate to reduced demand on plants for growth above ground. The warmer soil temperature is favorable to root growth and establishment. The same applies to dividing and moving some established perennials.

Stake only newly planted trees that might be subjected to high winds. Research has shown that some minor bending and flexing actually strengthens stems and trunks.

Mulch new plantings 2-3" deep out to drip line, leaving two inches from the stem open to discourage vole damage. This mulch keeps soil temps a little higher, promoting strong root growth and establishment.

Mulch established plants after the ground is frozen. This will help to lock in the cold, keep the soil frozen, deter frost heaving, retain moisture, and allow proper drainage. Evergreen boughs can be used to create little pockets of cold air and catch snow and mulch.

Look around at the hardscape items, the ornamental add-ons. Lawn furniture should be examined and repaired, cleaned, painted or protected and prepared for storage. Same for garden fences, trellises, sculptures and other garden accessories that might be vulnerable to winter damage or deterioration. This can be wonderfully rewarding on a sunny fall day, and will delight again in the coming spring.

Irrigate new plantings if rainfall isn't at or near two inches a week. You do have a rain gauge, right? Supply one gallon of water per week for perennials; five gallons per week for trees and shrubs; this, until the ground is frozen.

Protect trunks of thin barked trees (fruit trees, especially) from gnawing and nibbling voles and rabbits. Use tree wraps or hardware cloth, and go up as high as possible, because if there is a lot of snow, rabbits will be on top of it and can seriously damage important upper branches.

The best time to thin crowns of mature trees and remove dead, storm or drought damaged limbs is after several hard freezes. The trees will be truly dormant. If the work is especially difficult for you, or if you suspect a serious tree problem, for the health and safety of both yourself and the tree, call a certified arborist. Everybody wins.

Sunscald injury results when the trunks and branches of trees heat up during the day as strong sun strikes them directly and also reflects off snow. As the night temperatures fall and the bark temperature with it, the expansion and contraction causes the bark to crack and split. Painted with a white latex paint, the sunlight is reflected and temperatures stay closer to normal. Be proactive and protect them before it gets too cold.

Cut back asparagus after a hard frost - its golden color is a visual clue.

Cut back perennials after they've died back, leaving a 4-5' handle to help catch snow or mulch and provide a location clue in spring.

Once snow has killed off the leaves and blossoms of your roses, cut back the canes enough so that nothing will be damaged by wind. Then mound up soil around the base covering the graft union with at least ten to twelve inches of soil. Once the ground is frozen, you can add additional mulch to prevent frost heaving.

Clean up under trees: twigs, dead branches, and fallen fruit. You will reduce next year's incidence of insect and disease infestations. Rake leaves or double mow them.

Clean up the strawberry patch; don't mulch until the ground is frozen.

Harvest horseradish before the ground is frozen. It will be at its (Wow!) best.

To protect broadleaf and needled evergreens from winter burn resulting from damaging frigid winds and afternoon sun, construct screens using sturdy stakes and burlap fabric surrounding the plants. Anti-desiccant sprays are also very useful. The barriers have the added benefit of preventing deer from browsing.

Heavy wet rapid snowfalls accumulate so quickly that prompt removal from valued evergreens will prevent major damage to branches and limbs. Wooden structures anchored in the ground with some overhead protection and snow diversion can prevent buildup and subsequent plant injury.

If you are planning to purchase a live Christmas tree for the holidays to plant afterwards, did your hole now. Fill with leaves, straw, or pine needles and cover. Store removed soil in cool location above freezing.

Prepare to keep clear frequently used winter walkways. Have on hand plant friendly methods to deal with ice buildup. Urea fertilizer, sand, cat litter, sawdust, wood ash, pine needles and even shredded leaves are best for all plant sensitive areas. Locate weatherproof containers near these traffic areas for easy application. A handy boot brush or scrub mat at entrances will make the whole process house and guest friendly as would a welcoming cup of hot coffee, tea, or mulled cider and some one size fits all slippers.

Frost seeding is a long standing method of seeding hardy flowers in prepared ground for next year's rewards. Be sure to protect seeds from birds with screening, or a light mulch of pine needles or peat moss until snow has had a chance to cover the ground.

For color, life and song, little beats observing the winter birds coming to you feeders once the ground is frozen. Clean out nesting boxes, feeders and humming bird-drinking apparatus with a 10% bleach and water solution. Once the bears are in hibernation, keep the feeders full, and supply the birds with plenty of fresh water. They will become dependent on you until spring. The rewards will be mutual.

I look forward each year to the display of color, activity and flourish that only my local birds' feeding can offer. I'm anxious to begin their feeding, but must wait until the right time. Drat! We've just turned back the clock. Maybe this will make me less anxious. The female bears and cubs hibernate earlier than the males. Go to sleep, please!

Until next time, enjoy the changes surrounding us. They are delicious.

From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on November 7, 2007

© 2007 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.