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Putting the Garden To Bed
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

October 21, 2001

The perfect time to start putting your garden to bed is after the first few frosts but before the onset of real cold. There are four big jobs left before we can cosy up with catalogs, design books or turn our attention to indoor gardening.
The first is winter mulching but it is still too early. Sometimes we bind ourselves to the calendar without realizing that Mother Nature doesn't. Apply it after the ground freezes to a depth of 1/2" to 1". Mulching now will trap too much heat energy in the ground and plants will not harden off properly. You'll also be making snug homes for overwintering rodents and buggy things.
The second is mowing the lawn. If you're the really ambitious type, I know that you've drained the oil and fuel, coated the underside of the pan with a protective covering ( yes, organic oils are available), sharpened the blade and stored the lawnmower away for the winter. Well . . . borrow your neighbour's. Long grass during the winter can mat, invite diseases-especially snow mould fungus, and give mice a nice protective run to your garden, a dinner trail from one tasty plant to another. Cut the grass short (2") and make sure that any other surface materials such as leaves are finely chopped. By the way, this last mowing is good preventative measure for chinch bugs.
The third, and now I just know you will shake your heads, is to water everything, including the grass. Compare your lawn to your evergreens. They too have been through a drouthy year and they too are just as susceptible to desiccation from the harsh winter winds. The good soaking technique that you practiced weekly during the summer will do well. I've often wondered how to give our trees and shrubs a good drink without "puddling." This suggestive tidbit comes from Grant Wood, Department of Horticultural Science at the University of Alberta. Place a soaker hose in a circle around the drip-line of the tree. The drip-line is an imaginary circle drawn on the ground around the edges of the canopy. This very closely corresponds to the location of the feeder roots under the soil. Set the flow rate so that it allows the ground to accept the water. If the area is sodded, use a garden fork to poke some holes in the turf for easier moisture penetration.
There is another task that could be done now, if you haven't done so earlier. Protect your shrubs and trees from the winter wind and sun. The wind will desiccate or dry out the exposed plant parts. This is true for the bare-trunked deciduous plants as well. Though they are dormant, they still respire (breathe.) Think of dormancy as hibernation not suspended animation. The "hot" January sun is warm enough to cause sap to flow: the cold night temperature freezes it, the expansion causes cell rupture, and the tree "cracks." Look for long wounds along the length of the trunk the next time you're out and about.
Protection for deciduous trees can include a dormant oil spray for desiccation and a coat of latex pain for southwest injury. Yes, I really do mean that you paint the tree trunk. Latex won't hurt the plant and the combination of rain in the spring and new growth will shed the paint quite readily. 
Conifers and shrubs will benefit from the use of sandwich boards; make sure that they are oriented in line with the prevailing wind. Remember to gussy them up a wee bit. A burlap wrap works well if you don't wrap it too tightly.
For complete and specific advice, call up the professional at your local nursery and garden centre.


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