Gardeners everywhere are girding themselves for the long winter ahead. We use the word ‘long’ as a preface to ‘winter’ intentionally. In recent years, we have experienced unusually mild winters with little snowfall and generally mild temperatures.
No matter. For gardeners, every Canadian winter is long. Spring just does not come fast enough. Bring on the melting snow, the smell of thawing soil, the first snow drops of March. In the meantime, we prepare for the cold months ahead, like squirrels burying nuts, we wrap our evergreens and fertilize the lawn one more time.
We are getting ahead of ourselves. Here is what we are busy doing in the garden this weekend. You might want to read this and post it on your fridge to remind you of some tasks that need urgent attention.
Plant spring flowering bulbs. It is too late to plant daffodils and narcissus as they need about 6 weeks free of ground frost to put down roots before winter. Tulips, crocus and hyacinths, on the other hand, are very happy planted in the ground this time of year. Grandpa Cullen often planted his tulips the day before Christmas and enjoyed a wonderful show the next spring. This may be late in the bulb-planting season, but you will get some great deals at your local retailer, who is blowing bulbs out of the store before they get stuck with them over the winter.
Christmas wrap. The first gifts that you should wrap for the Christmas season are your evergreens. We wrap two layers of burlap around upright evergreens, especially our junipers and cedars (which are very susceptible to salt burn). One layer prevents wind damage, the other snow and ice. The yew hedge gets wrapped with a double-layered piece of burlap, supported by 2” x 2” stakes hammered into the ground. This is a gift to yourself.
Lawnmower. We put our power mower to bed by cleaning the cutting deck and spraying it with lubricating oil. We empty the gas from the tank as it can go gummy in the carburetor next spring when we start the machine: after removing gas from the tank, let the motor run until it runs out of gas. Remove the connection from the spark plug and wipe the exterior down with an oiled cloth.
Fertilize the lawn. What? With the leaves off the trees and a cold bite in the air, this is not what you will feel like doing. But we don’t always feel like walking the dog either. It must be done. Feeding your lawn now builds up natural sugars at the root zone, which help keep your lawn healthy and green next spring. You will minimize snow mould, white powdery mildew and brown spot during the thaw by fertilizing this time of year. Truth is, this is the most useful application you will make all year. We use a 12-0-18 formula, to ensure the best performance come spring.
Broad-leafed evergreens and yews. We apply an anti-desiccant to the foliage of our yews, rhododendrons, holly and other broad-leafed evergreens to minimize the damage that can occur from the extraordinarily dry winter air. Winter literally sucks the moisture out of fleshy-leafed plants. Look for Wilt Pruf in a ready to use bottle at the retailer. And use what you have left over to apply to your live Christmas tree to help it hold its needles and reduce fire hazard.
Hungry vermin. Rabbits, mice, rats and other vermin love to chow down on the bark of young fruit trees. Well, they don’t LOVE it; they do this out of desperation and hunger. The solution is simple and inexpensive. Wrap a spiral-shaped plastic protector around each fruit tree in your yard this weekend. Do this for the first five or six years of its life. After that, the bark is so tough even and sharp-toothed rabbit will have lost interest in it.
Water. You will soon shut off the outdoor faucets to prevent freezing, but before you do, be sure that established plants in your yard are well watered. We have had reasonable amounts of rain this fall, but the evergreens and shrubs under the eve and soffit of your home are protected from most rain. Be sure to soak all permanent plants deeply before the freeze up. Truth is being frozen in ice is better insulation than dry soil. Who knew?
There is little more to do out of doors after you have completed these tasks. Other than to gloat over the fact that you have done it all and deserve a rest through our long Canadian winter.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and holds the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, on Facebook and bi-weekly on Global TV’s National Morning Show.