Friday, October 20, 2006

Winterize with care

Express Staff Writer

It's with great distress that I return to this column. But it must be done. It's frosty in the mornings and dropping into the 20s at night. Therefore, it's unfortunately time to take seriously the onerous task of winterizing our gardens and landscaping.

Basic activities to do before the winter creeps any closer are planting bulbs, shrubs and trees, cutting back already dormant plants, laying compost on garden beds, raking and composting the leaves, cleaning equipment and tools, pulling up stakes, blowing out sprinklers, and cleaning bird houses and filling feeders.

In the garden, take extra care to protect your investments by prolonging the life of your plants and ensuring a lovely spring next year.

For perennials, loosely pile evergreen boughs on top of your plants after they've been pruned to about 5 inches—though not woody plants such as sage and lavender. I often wait until the holidays and cut from the discarded Christmas tree. But if we have early snows it's wiser to just do some trimming from your own evergreens, which probably need some attention anyway. Almost all supposed (green) trash from your landscape can be used in other places. Plastic bags of lawn trash are a waste of landfill space unless you use biodegradable lawn trash bags.

Evergreen boughs make a nice insulating layer of air and they don't rot. Straw—not hay—makes good mulch as well. Compost or bark mulch can also be used but don't cover the crowns of the plants as it may bring on root rot.

Roses need some special attention. Shrub roses can survive colder winter weather if properly prepared. At this time, prune away to a height and spread of 18 inches. If the plant is younger, prune judiciously. In late winter, you'll be doing more serious pruning to remove winterkill.

Mound 8 to 12 inches of bark or compost over the base of the rose, being sure to cover the crown. You can wrap burlap or chicken wire around the plant, and then fill with straw as protection. Some people place larger barriers over plants if they are next to a house where snow may fall on them.

Do we have to lose our kitchen herbs? It's worth a try to move them inside though with the dryness in our homes it's often difficult to make them last all the way until spring. Lucky owners of southern facing and greenhouse windows will fare much better.

Start by cutting back the herb foliage to fit on a windowsill. Check closely for insects, which you really don't want to bring inside. Dig up the plant, shaking excess soil off the roots. Trim roots as needed. Moisten potting mix for the bottom of the pot. The crown should be fairly level with the surface of the mix after the pot has been billed. Water thoroughly and keep in sunny window.

Lastly, make sure you've made note of what you planted this year, and where, so that next spring you're not weeding the good stuff.

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