Get the Garden Winter Ready - 27 East

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Get the Garden Winter Ready

Number of images 5 Photos
Rose

Rose "Sweet Spirit" was planted in 2021. It’s done very well, but the cane on the right, the tallest, may need slight pruning so it doesn’t get broken and wind whipped during the winter. The remaining foliage also needs to be removed so disease organisms that can be on the foliage won’t reinfect next year's leaves and stems. ANDREW MESSINGER

This natural clay pot will not survive the winter. It’s full of soil and one very cold night will cause the soil to expand as it freezes and the pot will split. Simply emptying it, inverting it and setting it on wooden spacers would probably get it through the winter unscathed. ANDREW MESSINGER

This natural clay pot will not survive the winter. It’s full of soil and one very cold night will cause the soil to expand as it freezes and the pot will split. Simply emptying it, inverting it and setting it on wooden spacers would probably get it through the winter unscathed. ANDREW MESSINGER

Most of my fuel storage jugs have a plastic tag attached that has notes on when it was last filled and if stabilizer was added. With stabilizer most fuels can be stored in jugs for up to six months.
ANDREW MESSINGER

Most of my fuel storage jugs have a plastic tag attached that has notes on when it was last filled and if stabilizer was added. With stabilizer most fuels can be stored in jugs for up to six months. ANDREW MESSINGER

Terra cotta (any clay or cement) pots need to be emptied and stored properly to avoid winter cracking, splitting and chipping. This faux terra cotta pot made from an extruded foam product is winter hardy and can withstand freezing but should still be emptied before winter.
ANDREW MESSINGER

Terra cotta (any clay or cement) pots need to be emptied and stored properly to avoid winter cracking, splitting and chipping. This faux terra cotta pot made from an extruded foam product is winter hardy and can withstand freezing but should still be emptied before winter. ANDREW MESSINGER

"Teaming With Bacteria" by Jeff Lowenfels

Autor

Hampton Gardener®

  • Publication: Residence
  • Published on: Dec 15, 2022
  • Columnist: Andrew Messinger

Next week will be the winter equinox, the official calendar start of winter. Are you and your garden ready? This week some suggestions and thoughts on getting your tools, plants and gardens ready for the big sleep, and a book to read that may change your thinking about how you garden and your dirt.

Since I seem to have doubled the number of rose bushes in my gardens in the last year my mind is on winter protection of these shrubs. I am not a rosarian, though there are plenty of them out here. I’m just a guy who’s found a few roses that I enjoy and are pretty trouble free. Nonetheless, roses do tend to need some winter care.

With all the different types and idiosyncrasies of the various roses it can be confusing to know when to do what for and with them. For the moment, though, the decisions are focused on what to do (if anything) as these plants enter winter. There is one thing that’s common to them all though: good sanitation. What does this mean? Cleaning up old foliage and removing as much from the ground as possible, and when the plant is fully dormant removing leaves left on the stems. It’s primarily these leaves (and the ones on the ground) that are the source of disease infection for next year. If properly cleaned up and removed far from the site then one of the main sources of reinfection is gone. Rose foliage should not be composted.

But what about pruning? I worry about long canes that have survived the summer and fall that might be damaged by ice, snow and wind. Should they be pruned and how far? Hold off on any of this protective pruning until you know the plant has gone dormant. Pruning a rose prior to dormancy can stimulate new growth, however so minute, during warm spells, and then if it gets bitterly cold these growth areas can be severely damaged as they are not hardened off for the winter. The damage can spread beyond just the point of the cut.

If you do decide to reduce some taller canes so they don’t become wind whipped make sure you use a pruner that’s sharp and doesn’t leave shreds of stem as you cut. A sharp cut made properly will heal and seal. Shreds of tissue that are left hanging will only cause further problems. Prune as little as possible leaving behind a strong cane that can resist wind whipping.

In March, I’ve made it part of my early spring routine to use dormant oil on my rose bushes. I use the same light horticultural oil that I use on other plants, like my magnolias (for scale control). On the roses, the oil will smother any insect eggs and also has the ability to smother disease spores that may have lingered on the stems.

Winter mulches are important to keep the soil stable around perennials and other shallow-rooted hardy plants. Applied too early this mulch can lead to rot. Applied when the soil is frozen, mulch can stop winter heaving and moderate the soil temperature on very cold or very warm days or weeks. Mulches should never come near the trunks of fruit trees, especially quince, apple and pear. In general the mulch should be about 8 to 10 inches (or more) away from the trunk. Voles love to move through mulch, and if the mulch is brought right up to the trunk the voles can chew the bark totally unseen by predators. Keep the mulch away from the trunk and this will solve the problem unless we get a ton of snow and then the voles just go wild.

Once we get a prolonged cold spell — several days when the nights are in the mid to low 20s and the ground freezes several inches down — this is the time to apply winter mulches.

Deer fencing and deer repellents should be up already. I’ve give up on trying to protect large areas with deer fencing as they inevitably find a way to get over it and under it. Instead, I fence groups of plants or individual plants, and this seems to be much more effective. Keep in mind that if a deer has a running start it can usually clear an 8-foot-tall fence. But when the fence just surrounds the plant, jumping is no longer an option.

When using repellents, you will probably need to make several applications over the winter. Don’t use the same repellent all the time. Alternate one or two of them and this will help in convincing them to try elsewhere.

Unless you are thoroughly draining your outdoor power equipment (gas) there are two options for winter storage. The first is to drain the gas tank then run the engine until it stops, starved of fuel. Do not put more fuel in and you should be set for the winter. Option two is to remove any old fuel and add fuel that is storage treated with a product like Sta-Bil. Fill your tank with a stabilized mix so no moisture forms in the tank, run the engine for a few minutes, turn the engine off and let it cool, then you’re all set engine-wise for a safe winter.

Same holds true of 2 cycle string trimmers, tillers and chain saws. Add fuel stabilizer to a fresh can of fuel mix (oil and gas as recommended by the engine manufacturer), let the equipment run for a couple of minutes, shut off and let it cool down. You’re set for the winter.

If you’re concerned that you might forget what you’ve done you can use a manila tag with a string on it to note what you’ve done, put the date on it and attach it to the fuel cap or handle of the machine. I also keep a tag on my fuel cans so I’m sure the fuel is always stabilized. I simply add stabilizer every time I fill one of my fuel cans and this way I’ve got year-round, built-in insurance.

If you keep gasoline around through the winter for emergencies such as a generator or a snow blower, that stored fuel should be stabilized as well and tagged indicating when the mix was made.

Cleaning hand tools will make them last much longer. If you’re spending a hundred bucks and more on a good hand tool, then keeping it clean and rust protected for the winter will add years to its life. Remove all signs of dirt, mud and debris, then apply a protective coating of light oil or WD 40 to protect against rust and pitting. This is for tools with metal blades only such as shovels, tine rakes, garden forks, hoes and pruning equipment.

Overwintering terra cotta, other clay and concrete pots can create real dilemmas. Some pot vendors claim that their pots have a unique composition that makes them frost-proof, but they never say freeze proof. I’ve worked with terra cotta pots that cost well over $1,000 each and we’ve stuffed them with hay (no soil) and covered them with plastic so no snow or rain can enter the pots during the winter. But the clay these pots are made of is porous and can absorb moisture, resulting in freezing, cracking and chipping.

When at all possible these clay pots should be cleaned, air dried and stored in a shed or garage where they will be protected from rain and snow and hopefully in a spot where the temperatures will not be severe. If you do have to leave them outdoors never leave them with the rim to the sky. Invert them so the rims are on the bottom but the rim should always rest above the soil on wood blocks or wood pallets.

A good way to lose your expensive pots is to leave them outdoors, full of soil with the drainage hole at the bottom plugged and not draining. This is a recipe for terra cotta mortis.

The very worst you can do with any ornamental clay pot, no matter what the style or shape, is to leave them filled with soil or any other absorbent material. The soil will retain moisture and will expand and contract during the winter during freeze/thaw cycles and split, crack and or chip. Clay saucers should never be left outdoors in the winter even if they are glazed. These need to go indoors where they’ll remain dry and above freezing. Keep growing.

Garden Notes
 

One more suggestion for a holiday gift for your favorite gardener. Jeff Lowenfels’s books have been reviewed in this column several times over the years. The New York Times even did a feature on him a few years ago. He is as prolific a garden writer as he is a brilliant author.

His latest book, “Teaming With Microbes,” (Timber Press $25) is just an amazing look at the bacteria in our soil and what role these microbes play in virtually every stage of plant growth. He’s taken an incredibly complex subject and added wisdom and humor to a text that will change the way you approach your garden and the bacteria that make every aspect of gardening work.

I began reading this book with some trepidation as this is a very complicated subject but one that we’ve learned is critical to understanding everything from soils to seeds and fruits to roots. He does a wonderful job of taking the complexities of soil science and distilling it down to a level that just about every gardener can understand and use.

If you’re at all like me you may want to read this book twice before you begin working with the soil outside or starting seeds indoors. And yes, the book is even very relevant to houseplants since you may have noticed that these too grow in soil and thus need microbes (bacteria) that are often missing on our potting soils.

Want to know why I always recommend adding a bit of soil from your garden into you potting mixes? Read this book and you’ll finally understand why. I plan on reading it a second time just to make sure it all sinks in.

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