Toronto Star column – published November 29, 014
Protecting Your Garden Investment
“The flower that you hold in your hands was born today and already it is as old as you are.” ~Antonio Porchia, Voces, 1943, translated from Spanish by W.S. Merwin
This is the last Saturday in November and chances are you are not thinking much about the garden. Perhaps you are just glad that the weeding, watering and nurturing is behind you for another season and you can finally settle onto the couch for some good hockey. Well, I admire your attitude about hockey. You will need a good one for obvious reasons. We live in Toronto, after all.
Where the garden is concerned: not so fast. In spite of the deep freeze that we experienced just last week, now is a great time to review a few important details. My list below may provide the perfect excuse to get outside and enjoy the fresh late autumn air (yes it IS autumn still). In any case, you will ignore my suggestions at your own expense as I am just trying to help save your investment in a great looking garden next year. As always, your interests are my primary interest.
1. Plant tulips. If you forgot to plant them earlier or you just didn’t get around to it, now is the perfect time to plant tulips for a great spring show of colour. Truth is, most spring flowering bulbs need more time in the soil before the winter sets its frosty claws into it. Not so tulips. Plant as long as you can move the soil with a trowel or shovel. If your garden soil is frozen, the soil near the foundation of your home likely is not. And enjoy the bargains offered by retailers desperate to move their last inventory.
2. Wilt-Pruf. With apologies for the spelling (this is an American product, that should explain it), this ready-to-use liquid is magic on boxwood, yews, cedars exposed to wind and road-salt-spray, rhododendrons, and your fresh cut Christmas tree. Wilt-Pruf is an ‘anti-desiccant’ that provides an invisible layer of protection to all broad-leaved evergreens come winter. The humidity in our winter air drops to less than 10% some days, causing the moisture in the foliage of tender evergreens to evaporate. The result is browning in the extreme. Your Christmas tree will benefit from an application of this stuff too, reducing needle drop and fire hazard.
3. Hill up your roses. I reminded you a month ago that this would be the last job around the garden before you batten down the hatches. If you forgot, you can be forgiven. The good news is that you still have time to do it. Mound triple mix to a height of 50cm around the base of each hybrid tea, floribunda, grandiflora and miniature rose bush. A plastic rose collar will help you do an even better job. Bags of triple mix are available at your local retailer. Smart ones have thawed product stored indoors.
4. Rake the last of the fallen leaves off your lawn and into your garden (assuming that it is not covered with snow). Worms will pull the leaves down into the soil come spring. Trust me.
5. Clean your bird feeders. Then fill them. We are never as inclined to clean our bird feeders in the winter. It is a nuisance. So do it now, using a stiff brush and soapy water. Then fill them with quality bird seed and note that the cheap stuff mostly ends up kicked out of the feeder onto the ground. Song birds are not stupid.
6. Feed your lawn. The most important application of the year occurs in the fall, but only when you apply it. If you haven’t done it, it is not too late. Come spring your lawn will thank you by greening up quickly with much greater resistance to snow mould and brown-out.
7. Wrap fruit trees with a plastic spiral. Last winter we experienced record mice and rabbit damage in the GTA, especially on young apple trees. A plastic spiral would have saved a lot of trees from permanent damage. For $3 or so they are one of the best investments that you can make in winter garden protection.
8. Lubricate and clean your lawn mower. If you have a power mower, remove the old grass lining the cutting deck with a mower-scraper (I have one in my line of Mark’s Choice products that works so much better than a screwdriver). Spray the cutting deck and moving parts with oil, remove the connector to the spark plug, change the oil and sharpen the blades. There. Ready for spring. If you have a rechargeable electric mower, clean it and sharpen the blades.
9. Turn your compost pile or the contents of your compost bin one more time before hard frost. This introduces oxygen and speeds decomposition. You want that.
10. Store your seeds in a dry, cool place. Your dahlia tubers and gladiola bulbs, too.
11. Dig and divide perennials. Hosta plants that have been established for 5 years or more lend themselves to being divided up and replanted around the yard. This is true of monarda, day lilies, Shasta daisies and any plant with a fleshy root. If plants are getting too aggressive in your yard, now is a good time to remove the root to bring them under control. Think in terms of vinca minor (periwinkle), ajuga, snow-on-the-mountain (Aegopodium) which should really be called, “Don’t plant this or it will take over your world”.
12. Prune evergreens and plan on using some of the limbs for Christmas decoration. This is true also for fruiting plants like trumpet vine, hardy holly, many roses that produce colourful hips, small fruiting crab apples etc. Look for anything that is attractive in your yard and go nuts.
13. Wrap burlap around cedars and evergreens that are exposed to wind. Again, a reminder that last winter was the winter of all winters where plant damage was concerned. Two layers of inexpensive burlap around all evergreens will help to prevent snow damage (from the weight of snow), salt spray (from the melted snow on a nearby road, especially on the east side of the road) and sun scald in late winter (when the sun reflects off a clean, white layer of snow onto evergreen foliage).
14. Turn off your outdoor water faucets from inside your home.
15. Clean out your eaves troughs.
Ok, now we are getting into another realm: that of House Prep for winter. This is the domain of Bryan Baeumler, columnist in this section. He has so much more experience and knowledge than I do about this stuff. After you have cleaned out your eaves troughs, I suggest that you read his column and ask him a few questions about winterizing your home.
Me? I am planning my next garden vacation and making sure that my spring supply of seed catalogues are on order. I plan on watching lots of hockey in the mean time.