SPEAKING OF GREAT PUMPKINS AND THE COMING OF WINTER
Hello fellow Earthlings, and welcome to the post goblin depression. The
ghosts and witches have left our porches with the promise of the cold
weather to come. Winter is coming my friends, and this is the time to get
the garden ready for the chilly times ahead. In this discussion we will be
touching on some of the techniques for putting the garden to bed for the
winter. So put on your coat and gloves and let's take a walk in the garden.
At this time of year we can feel the chill in the air and so can our
plants. Many of our perennial plants require some sort of protection form
this chill as well as from the bitter cold in coming months. Plants slow
down their metabolic rates in the cooler weather. This behavior is similar
to the hibernation that certain animals exhibit during cold weather.
Keeping this in mind, it is good to figure out ways to make hibernation
dens for your plants when cold weather sets in. This process is known by
many terms, but the most common term for winter plant protection is
mulching. Mulching can be accomplished with a number of protective
materials including newspaper, fallen leaves, pine straw, hay, coarse
compost, or plastic sheeting. There are also several pre-made products out
on the market that are fitted to certain types of plants and are especially
popular with rose growers wishing to protect their plants from the cold.
In warmer climates where frosts are infrequent, plants don't normally
require the extensive insulating that they do in colder northern climates.
Where winters are mild, a simple refreshing of the existing compost/ mulch
layer is usually sufficient to insulate the plant or soil from periodic
frosts or from drying winds. I suggest putting down a dose of gypsum in
alkaline soils or some lime in more acidic soils under the new layer of
mulch. This permits the entire winter for these minerals to be assimilated
into the soil so that when the plants begin growing again in the spring
these minerals are immediately available. I really like a new mineral
material called Kelzyme for this technique. Kelzyme is a fossilized kelp/
marine algae mineral that provides an abundance of calcium and over 50
other minerals to the soil and your plants. Kelzyme is not widely found in
stores but can be ordered from Organic Resources Company at 760.634.1066
(ask for Doug Gore). I have used this material as a mineral supplement for
my soil three years in a row and have been very pleased with the results.
In colder climates, plants and soils require a heavier class of insulation.
This is where such useful materials as pine needles (pine straw) and hay
come in handy. One of my favorite materials for cold protection is alfalfa
hay. Alfalfa contains an abundance of trace minerals and the plant growth
hormone "Triconatol" that is a good promoter of plant vigor. One of the
best things about using a thick layer of any of these materials is that as
they slowly decompose, they emit heat. This is very helpful where winters
My favorite way to protect roses and other somewhat frost sensitive
perennials is to mound hay over the lightly pruned plants in a small
haystack form while the weather is still rather mild. As the haystack
settles, I add some hay to the settled areas to ensure complete insulation
of the plant.
As cold weather sets in the haystacks are completely settled
and will not be affected by high winds. The plants should have at least a
foot of hay insulation between them and the elements. Once spring weather
begins to warm up and the threat of hard frost is past, pull the hay off of
the plants and do your fine pruning. By avoiding severe pruning before
spring you allow more small diameter plant tissue to protect the larger
If you severely prune your plants before piling hay over them for
the winter and your insulation fails there is nothing between the elements
and critically important parts of the plant. Smaller diameter stems will
freeze and die sooner and form protective scars for the larger plant parts
if they are exposed to extreme cold. By using this technique of plant
protection during the winter you can be assured that your precious plants
will be there for you when warm weather returns.
We will be discussing seed catalogs and starting seeds indoors next time
for getting a head start on spring. Stay warm and I'll see you in the Garden!
Look for Don's book Natural Gardening A-Z from Hay House at bookstores everywhere and at all online booksellers and check out Don's columns in Hearst's Healthy Living Magazine coming soon.
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