THE unseasonably warm weather has been perfect for completing fall chores.
Start by giving your roses a light pruning. Wait until the ground has hardened, though, before applying a mulch around the base of your rose bushes. Mice would love to burrow into a warm soil and nibble on rose shoots. I like to build a tipi form around the bushes with hardwood stakes in preparation for tenting the roses. This is also a chore more easily done before the ground hardens.
Winter can be very hard on plants, but the problem is not, as you might think, the deep freeze. The threat comes instead from milder winter days when the sun is warm enough to thaw bare ground, which then freezes again when temperatures fall at night. This freeze-and-thaw cycle causes the ground to expand and contract, dislodging plants up and out of the soil.
A winter mulch prevents this problem by shading the soil so it remains frozen all winter, while at the same time allowing air and moisture to penetrate. The best mulch in cold climates is snow, but this can be supplemented with straw, hay, pine needles or branches from discarded Christmas trees.
Maurice Larson, horticultural supervisor at the Assiniboine Park Conservatory, highly recommends flax straw for its insulating value and because it doesn't flatten easily. Half-decomposed compost is chunky enough to make a good mulch and it will provide nourishment to the soil as well. The important thing with these mulches is to apply after the ground has frozen solid, which can be as much as two months after the first fall frost. Premature mulching encourages rodents to nest and feed on plant stalks and roots.
When it's time to burlap my roses or shrubs, I take great care to avoid placing the burlap directly on the branches. Otherwise, it will act as a wick and draw much-needed moisture from the plants over the long, cold winter period. Be sure the stakes are heavy enough to bear the weight of the burlap rather than the plant itself.
Ray DuBois, president of Ron Paul Garden Centre, has some good advice when it comes to protecting cedars.
"The proper method for wrapping a cedar is in fact to NOT wrap it, but rather set up a protective barrier or perimeter using wooden stakes and burlap.
The burlap takes the brunt of the cold wind that harms the cedar in the winter. By leaving a two- to three-inch gap, you create space and the burlap absorbs the abuse while protecting the cedar.
"In the spring, take care to not remove the burlap too soon. Even though temperatures are rising and snow is beginning to melt, the roots of the cedar are still frozen. The root system is not able to push moisture through the foliage so the tree 'bakes' in the sunlight. You risk severely damaging the cedar or even killing it by removing the protective barrier too soon. Leave the burlap in place until the first or second week in May once the risk of frost is minimal."
Garden tools must also be put away. Before closing the shed door for the season, be sure to clean off any soil clinging to your favourite shovel, rake or garden fork and give both handles and blades a good rubbing of linseed oil. Clean and oil the blades of pruners before storing away for the winter.
Check the labels on any chemicals or fertilizers (if you use them) to see if they can withstand freezing temperatures and store accordingly.
Hoses and watering accessories should be drained and stored away from the elements. We have a small water feature in our yard which requires both draining and cleaning. The filter, pump and hoses are reasonably cleaned and stored in a dry and frost-free area.
Non-hardy water plants must be brought indoors prior to frost with the necessary preparations to keep them in tanks or other containers until next spring. I have never grown or stored plants such as water lilies, but have read that they can be stored in the same pots as used in the pond setting and placed in black plastic bags that are left open for air circulation. In this way they never really dry out but will go dormant with the lack of light and cooler temperature of a basement or insulated garage.
I feed the birds year-round, but obviously it's time to say goodbye to certain species. I clean and store the feeders for the hummingbirds, orioles and songbirds. Birdhouses can be cleaned too, removing any old nesting materials. Wash with a mild bleach solution and rinse. Make sure the suet feeder or heavier feeders for black sunflower and mixed seed are checked over so that they are ready for the rigours of winter. I always try to have an extra bag of my favourite seed mixes on hand (stored in critter-proof garbage pails) so I don't let my feathered and furry friends down when snow arrives.
An ongoing fall job is the raking and bagging of leaves. This is my main carbon source for compost next year. Sylvie Hebert of Green Action, reminds us, too, that saving autumn leaves helps to balance out the 'wet' or kitchen scraps that you will be adding to your compost bin during winter.
And one last word: Be sure to obtain as many garden catalogues and magazines as you can for winter reading so you'll be an informed gardening consumer come spring.
Susan LeBlanc is past president of the Manitoba Regional Lily Society. She now chairs the annual Mother's Day Plant Sale.
ONE of the most common questions at this time of year is about winter lawn protection, says Ray DuBois, president of Ron Paul Garden Centre.
He recommends removing all debris, and dethatching using a good thatch rake.
"Aerate your lawn. Get together with your neighbours to offset the cost of rental," DuBois says. "The job can be completed in an afternoon and enables nutrients and water to reach the roots of grass more easily in the fall and especially in the spring when it is most needed."
He also recommends cutting the grass short in order to lessen the chance of the dreaded snow mould. Let the clippings remain.
"Use a fall weed-and-feed to attack the roots of the weeds and provide much-needed nutrients to the root system, which will be stored until the spring. Both grass and weeds store nutrients for the winter and will drink up the fertilizer as well as the herbicide."
DuBois says this is the best solution for a lush green, weed-free lawn. Cut your lawn one last time and over-seed the day before a forecast of snow. The lawn clippings will help to insulate the seed, which will sprout in the spring.
He also reminds us to avoid shoveling salt from the sidewalk onto the grass. It's a sure way to kill it. Instead, try using sand instead to combat slippery surfaces.
Next week: What to do with that stunning Japanese maple you purchased this summer. Erna Wiebe will share tips on overwintering specialty plants.