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Garden Primer, Part Three: 5 Tips for Your Winter Garden
BY Charlie Dobbin | November 30th, 2021
We’ve had a warm, wet extended fall season so far. And thank goodness I have a partner who is both retired and highly engaged in our new landscape. I’ve been super busy teaching at Durham College, hosting the Garden Show on AM740 every Saturday and finishing taping the documentary series Healing Gardens for VisionTV. All while Elliot has been handling all the ‘put the lawn and garden to bed’ chores.
He did the final mow of the lawn shortly after our first real frost. Cutting height was set at 2¼ inches (5cm), since having a short lawn going into winter means faster warm up and growth in the spring. He applied a fall lawn fertilizer right after that mow. All the hoses have been drained and put away for winter and our outdoor taps are shut off inside and open outside. The rain barrel is drained and all leaves have been sent for compost.
Of course, there are still a few things to take care of. Like:
1. Feeding the birds. Bird feeders need to be clean for winter, and appropriate seed purchased. I love having the sounds and movement of birds outside our windows in winter. We moved to a rural property two years ago, and I find it fascinating to watch the wild birds slowly figure out how to use a bird feeder. Back in our suburban home north of Toronto, I had acclimatized the cardinals, blue jays, nuthatches, chickadees, and woodpeckers for years. So far, the cardinals are still a bit too shy to use our feeders, but the big loud jays are happy to rule the roost.
2. The Christmas cactus plants have been outside all summer and now that the days are shorter, and nights are cooler, the plants are covered in buds. I’ve left them out on the porch for now because once they come inside those buds will swell and open quickly in our heated home. They’re fine outside to a few degrees below zero, as long as I remember to water them on occasion.
3. Amaryllis bulbs are one of my favourite winter plants. I have five pots that stay outside all summer, happily growing long green leaves. Before frost I stop watering and put the pots in my dark basement. The leaves turn yellow and crispy before long, and within a few weeks flower buds will appear growing out of the top of the bulbs. Time to move them into the sunshine and provide some water. It doesn’t take long before tall flowers are brightening up our kitchen counters. Rotating the pots every day helps keep the top heavy plants from toppling over! These make an excellent gift for anyone on your list who loves to grow things.
4. Wrapping evergreens is my job. Never wrap too early or you will promote soft new growth at the wrong time of year. I use burlap loosely wrapped around cedars, rhododendrons and a few other tender plants. Burlap will help shield these plants from wind and sun that can dessicate (dehydrate) them during the winter. In the spring, this damage looks like they’ve been burned. Piling 6 inches (15cm) of soil over the crowns of tender plants like Butterfly Bush or roses can help them survive some of the extremes of winter too.
5. Time to scour the garage for any bulbs I’ve forgotten to plant. There is nothing worse than finding a bag of bulbs after the soil has frozen. Get them in the ground while you can!