Posts Tagged ‘Winter Plant Protection’

Last Saturday I had finished raking the leaves in the front yard and was about to rake the back yard after a short break. Just as I was wondering if we would ever get a frost I looked out the window and saw snow. And it snowed, and snowed, and snowed-fifteen inches in October! But the ground was nowhere near frozen and temperatures warmed so it melted quickly until now, all you see are little snow mounds dotted here and there throughout the neighborhood. Today it is supposed to be 50 degrees and by Monday we should see the mid sixties. That should finish off all the snow mounds left from the freak, once in a lifetime (I hope) October snow storm.

Now that the weather has returned to normal I can get back to raking all the leaves that the snow stripped off the trees. I think I’ll pile them separately in their own pile because I already have plenty on the compost pile. A good mound of leaf mold will come in handy when I want to add organic matter to the soil. Or, more accurately in this yard; when I want to replace gravel with something resembling organic matter. (If you new comers are confused, see “Gardening in gravel” in the June archive)

Some of the leaves will also be used on the roses. Once the ground crusts over and the roses are dormant, and all the rodents have found their winter homes I’ll put a good mound of well draining soil up around the canes at the base of each plant and then cover the soil with a thick mound of leaves. Then I’ll cover the leaves with more soil so they don’t blow away. I could use straw but I have leaves so I might as well save some money. Wetting the leaves slightly will also help keep them in place.

Mounding roses is an old method of wintering over hybrid tea roses and grafted varieties. It is not done to “keep the plant warm.” Instead, it is to keep both plant and soil cold enough so the bush doesn’t come out of dormancy on warm winter days or too early in the spring. This method requires a fairly good memory or a note pad because it is important that the soil mounds are removed in early spring or the canes could rot. I bought two pink, single flowered “Knockout” roses last summer and have heard some people question their hardiness. Since winter nights can get down to thirty below zero in this part of the state mounding might help see them through until spring.

I haven’t even mentioned trenching some bulbs for forcing, so I still have plenty of gardening left to do. One thing is certain; if I don’t stop writing about what I’m going to do and get out there and actually do it, winter really will be here.

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Because perennial beds are usually in a state of flux, with plants being dug and divided, new plants added, and older ones removed, I don’t mulch them. Instead I prefer the older method of bed grooming. Grooming perennial beds consists of regular (at least weekly) weeding and cultivating, with the disturbed top inch or two layer of cultivated soil acting as mulch. I’ll speak more about using cultivated soil as mulch in another post.

The only time I mulch perennial beds is for winter protection; typically in late fall and not, as some believe, to keep plants “warm” but rather to keep the soil frozen. Winter mulch should be applied when the soil starts to remain frozen during the daytime and plants have entered their dormant period. In southern New Hampshire this usually means mid to late November. The main reason for mulching as late as possible is because rodents like voles or mice will have already found their winter homes by the time the ground freezes and won’t be snuggling under warm mulch and feeding on a plant’s roots all winter.

During a relatively snowless winter or after most of the snow has melted in spring the soil surface can thaw quickly on warm days. The same thing can also happen during a week or more of a “January thaw.” This daytime thawing and nighttime re-freezing cycle can lift, or “heave” shallow rooted plants completely out of the ground. This leaves their crowns and roots exposed to the air and they dry out and die. Winter mulching prevents this by shading the soil surface and keeping it at a constant temperature.

Except in the case of evergreen boughs, the material chosen for winter mulch should be loosely placed around plants; not on top of them. Evergreen boughs are strong enough so snow doesn’t weigh them down, so they can be placed so they arch over plants. Straw, pine needles, bark, or other loose materials should be placed around the base of plants to a depth of about 2-3 inches. Shredded leaves may be used but they hold a lot of moisture, pack down easily, and are more apt to smother plants, so be sure to keep them off plant crowns. Hay shouldn’t ever be used because of the weed seeds it contains.

In the spring when the lawn feels spongy when walked on even in the late evening and perennial beds have started to dry out, all winter protection should be removed and added to the compost pile. Since it is removed in spring, winter mulching doesn’t have to be an overly neat operation. Remember-the point is to shade the soil, not to cover the plants.


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