We don’t need Jon Snow (my Game of Thrones hero) to tell us what lies ahead, although based on the recent weather we might not believe him anyway. With leaves still on many trees and balmy November temperatures, this extended fall has many of us in a state of denial about the inevitable. The last two winters have been so hard on landscapes, however, so it is important to take steps now to prepare for the colder months ahead. Weather forecasts seem to be very ambivalent…..I have heard predictions of another extreme winter, to milder “El Nino” influenced scenarios. No one ever really knows, so it’s best to be prepared for the worst and pleasantly surprised if it’s mild.
Now is the time to cut back perennials and do leaf and debris cleanup. Apart from obvious aesthetic benefits, keeping the garden free of debris over the winter aids in limiting fungal diseases and molds from developing. Bag and remove leaves, or better yet, recycle them into your compost bin. Decomposed leaves are a key ingredient in humus rich compost and you will be happy next spring to use it as a soil amendment or topdressing for garden beds. Although we cut back most perennials close to the ground, some exceptions such as ornamental grasses, can look lovely through the winter as an architectural accent. This is not a right or wrong here however- it’s more of a personal preference.
If leaf clean-up is completed, it’s not too late to put down a layer of mulch. Mulch of any type provides a layer of insulation to the soil, regulates temperatures and preserves moisture which is a benefit all year round. In the winter, hydration is critical to plant performance and survival. Cold temperatures and winter winds are highly dehydrating (think of how your skin feels) so maintaining adequate moisture greatly affects winter survival of plants.
Broad leaved evergreens, with their exposed fleshly leaves, are the most susceptible to winter dehydration and damage. For this, we recommend spray applications of anti-desiccants (or anti-transpirants) such as ‘Wilt-Pruf’ – a non-toxic waxy coating that is sprayed to both sides of the leaf surface to give it a layer of protection. It’s not a foolproof solution, but it can make a difference in the amount of damage incurred, and a less stressed plant can often go on to recover more quickly come spring. Note, that anti-desiccants should be applied when temperatures are above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Due to last winter’s extensive evergreen damage, burlap wrapping may be something to consider this year. In the past wrapping has been used to protect non-hardy plants, such as fig trees, from surviving winter outdoors. For those who have recently invested in new evergreens, or for a specimen that is precious, this extra step could be worth considering. Although not attractive, burlap will add yet another layer of protection and the payoff come spring is a completely undamaged versus the headache and expense of either waiting for recovery or replacement.
CLOSING WATER AND IRRIGATION LINES
Don’t forget to turn off all outside water lines and have your contractor professionally ‘blow out’ all lines for in- ground irrigation systems. This prevents water in outdoor pipes from freezing, expanding and exploding the pipes over the winter. There is never a good time for water damage, but winter water issues are all the more challenging when you add in the complications of freezing.
The Suburban Lot is our monthly blog that highlights topics and issues unique to the suburban landscape. For assistance with any of the above information, please contact Mierop Design, a complete resource for landscape design, installation and maintenance services.