Preparing Your Garden for Winter

Preparing Your Garden for Winter

A tumble of pumpkins

October’s pumpkins and coloured leaves mean that Chester gardeners, however reluctantly, must say farewell to summer and begin to prepare their gardens for winter’s onslaught, especially for our region’s common freeze and thaw cycles.  At a recent meeting of the Chester Garden Club, Rosmarie Lohnes passed on some tips to help local gardeners maintain healthy gardens through the off-season.

Her first tip included the benefit of  dividing perennials at this time of year because, when many leaves have fallen, it is easier to see the bones of the  garden and plan any changes in the placement of plants.

Woodland colours
Sedum “Autumn Joy”

Weeding in the fall also provides a good
opportunity to get down close to the ground and examine plants for disease or damage that may need remedial action.

Rosmarie recommended natural plant-based fertilizers like diluted manure  or seaweed tea for fall feeding, especially for plants that have been divided and moved. She noted that synthetic fertilizers and fish emulsions should not to be used at this time of year because they would stimulate above-ground growth rather than feed the roots.

Rosmarie Lohnes of Helping Nature Heal

 Mulching is an important part of winter preparation because climate changes in recent years have resulted in a lack of snow cover that used to provide a good layer of insulation.   Along the south shore of Nova Scotia, winter now brings repeated cycles of freezing and thawing and, in the winter, the lower angle of the sun means that its rays can hit the ground under what would have been summer’s leafy barrier.  This constant changing of ground temperature can result in a plant’s being heaved up out of the ground.  Despite the chilly air that retards a plant’s growth, its roots remain active (absorbing water and nutrients) until the temperature falls below about 7 ° C, so if any roots have been heaved out of the ground by the freeze-thaw cycle they are vulnerable to dying off.  A thick layer of mulch, such as hay or leaves anchored with brush (evergreen cuttings), provides good protection against this damaging cycle.

October is also a good time to prune both shrubs and any dead stalks on perennials. Woody stalks should be cut back only to the rosette.  One simple rule of thumb Rosmarie passed on was that any plant that will be “mushy” in the spring can be cut back now.  Ever the keen recycler, Rosmarie suggested that all old stalks and leaves be chopped up and sprinkled on garden beds,  where they will disintegrate over the winter, gradually being absorbed as nourishment for the soil, or that they be added to a compost. Some old stalks can be left to provide seeds for the birds or just simple eye appeal to the garden.

Fluffy seed heads of fountain grass wave in the breeze

As for shrubs, another rule of thumb for fall pruning is not to prune any branch that is larger than your finger. If the plant is not dormant, it is advisable to wait until spring to prune any branch larger than your wrist in order to prevent “bleeding” from the cuts.

Despite the advent of cooler weather, some plants continue to defy Mother Nature and are still producing blooms. The next two shots from Myra’s garden illustrate the hardiness of some of the Gaillardias.  Although the fall blooms lack the lushness of those in the  warmer months, they are still an attractive asset to her garden.

Gaillardia grandiflorum Goblin in July 2012
The same Gaillardia plants on October 15

In contrast to the survival of those Gaillardias, tender annuals like New Guinea Impatiens and  nasturtiums have been touched by a light frost in some areas. The main  colour in many gardens is found in yellowing foliage, ripened apples, and crimson berries like those on these cotoneasters.

Cotoneaster berries

0 Replies to “Preparing Your Garden for Winter”

  1. As doubledaisy says ” well done Joan ” – a lovely editorial – superb pics. all so enjoyable. Our club deserves to grow with such an enjoyable site to promote us. ! Thank you Jo11anne…

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