Hello fellow Earthlings, and welcome to the post goblin depression. The ghosts and witches have left our porches with the promise of the cold weather to come. Winter is coming my friends, and this is the time to get the garden ready for the chilly times ahead. In this discussion we will be touching on some of the techniques for putting the garden to bed for the winter. So put on your coat and gloves and let's take a walk in the garden.
At this time of year we can feel the chill in the air and so can our plants. Many of our perennial plants require some sort of protection form this chill as well as from the bitter cold in coming months. Plants slow down their metabolic rates in the cooler weather. This behavior is similar to the hibernation that certain animals exhibit during cold weather. Keeping this in mind, it is good to figure out ways to make hibernation dens for your plants when cold weather sets in. This process is known by many terms, but the most common term for winter plant protection is mulching. Mulching can be accomplished with a number of protective materials including newspaper, fallen leaves, pine straw, hay, coarse compost, or plastic sheeting. There are also several pre-made products out on the market that are fitted to certain types of plants and are especially popular with rose growers wishing to protect their plants from the cold.
In warmer climates where frosts are infrequent, plants don't normally require the extensive insulating that they do in colder northern climates. Where winters are mild, a simple refreshing of the existing compost/ mulch layer is usually sufficient to insulate the plant or soil from periodic frosts or from drying winds. I suggest putting down a dose of gypsum in alkaline soils or some lime in more acidic soils under the new layer of mulch. This permits the entire winter for these minerals to be assimilated into the soil so that when the plants begin growing again in the spring these minerals are immediately available. I really like a mineral material called Kelzyme for this technique. Kelzyme is a fossilized kelp/ marine algae mineral that provides an abundance of calcium and over 50 other minerals to the soil and your plants. I have used this material as a mineral supplement for my soil four years in a row and have been very pleased with the results.
In colder climates, plants and soils require a heavier class of insulation. This is where such useful materials as pine needles (pine straw) and hay come in handy. One of my favorite materials for cold protection is alfalfa hay. Alfalfa contains an abundance of trace minerals and the plant growth hormone "Triconatol" that is a good promoter of plant vigor. One of the best things about using a thick layer of any of these materials is that as they slowly decompose, they emit heat. This is very helpful where winters are severe.
My favorite way to protect roses and other somewhat frost sensitive perennials is to mound hay over the lightly pruned plants in a small haystack form while the weather is still rather mild. As the haystack settles, I add some hay to the settled areas to ensure complete insulation of the plant. As cold weather sets in the haystacks are completely settled and will not be affected by high winds. The plants should have at least a foot of hay insulation between them and the elements. Once spring weather begins to warm up and the threat of hard frost is past, pull the hay off of the plants and do your fine pruning. By avoiding severe pruning before spring you allow more small diameter plant tissue to protect the larger stems. If you severely prune your plants before piling hay over them for the winter and your insulation fails there is nothing between the elements and critically important parts of the plant. Smaller diameter stems will freeze and die sooner and form protective scars for the larger plant parts if they are exposed to extreme cold. By using this technique of plant protection during the winter you can be assured that your precious plants will be there for you when warm weather returns.
We will be discussing seed catalogs and starting seeds indoors next time for getting a head start on spring. Stay warm and I'll see you in the Garden!
Got Questions? Email the Doc at Curly@mill.net Don Trotter's natural gardening columns appear nationally in environmentally sensitive publications. Check out Don's books Natural Gardening A-Z and The Complete Natural Gardener at all on line book sellers and bookstores near you both from Hay House Publishing hayhouse.com
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