This year has seen very unusual weather and an extra month of fall — with no frost yet!
Sadly, we know at some point the weather will turn. Remember the Halloween blizzard? The snow came and never left.
With winter in mind, how can we protect our plants? And do they need help surviving?
We are in climate zone 4. Plants hardy in zone 4 need no additional winter protection. There are some assumptions made with that, mainly that your plants are established, of a reasonable size, planted at the correct depth, not divided too late in the season, watered into the fall and going into winter as healthy specimens.
It never hurts to cover them with winter mulch, especially if the plants were installed this year. There will be fewer issues with healthy plants that are older than a year.
Plants should not be covered until the ground is frozen for the season. In normal years that is mid-November or later. If you plan to cover plants, they should be cut back — anytime is OK.
It is easier to pile on 6-8 inches of straw mulch when the plant is cut back. For semi-woody plants such as Russian Sage, just scooch the mulch around the trunk. Sadly, this gardener has gotten barely anything cut back yet, despite a lot of thinking about it!
This past Sunday I was able to install three flats of perennials to cascade over my boulder walls that were installed last fall. Perennial geraniums and Nepeta faassenii (“Kitten Around”) now fill the stage. They will be a perfect front for the hydrangeas, American Cranberries and evergreens installed last week.
Before I could install the cascaders, I had a bit of rock work to do. Boulders do not fit tightly together, which of course leaves a crack or sometimes a gully for the soil behind them to wash or erode away. Luckily I have a large pile of assorted stones — all sizes and colors. About 10 spots needed to be plugged and it took only about an hour.
So why didn’t I do this last year? First you need to move the soil back away from the area. Then wedge a stone close to the shape of the opening as deep as you can. You may need to overlap thin stones or, in my case, large, thin pieces of limestone.
Continue to fill the crevice until you are at the soil level. If your repair is too low, rain will still run the soil over. Check your fix after a rainfall to see what needs further work.
You may not like the look of the small rocks filling the spaces, but these are the mechanics of it. This is where the plants come in — no one will ever know what is hiding under them.
This is the best time of year to move large deciduous trees and shrubs after they have lost their leaves and are heading into dormancy.
There is no demand on the root system to provide water to the leaves, so it can just concentrate on re-growing feeder roots and settling into its new location. It is usually December before the soil is freezing to any depth, so the roots still have several weeks to grow.
Any sizable plant needs to be moved with a tree spade by a professional. Older and larger trees will struggle more after being moved. A tree spade is only so large, and often too much of the root system is left behind. Watering is critical if plants are spaded in the growing season.
Spring would be the second-best time to have trees spaded before plants are leafed out. Smaller plants can often be moved during the summer and never miss a beat. If trees are not that established and were planted from a container, their roots are likely still more compact.
A wild tree from a wooded area would be the most difficult to have success with, as its roots can be going any direction. I have had about 50 trees and shrubs spaded in over the years — before and after the ’06 tornado.
There always seems to be room for just one more. Woody plants still for sale at garden centers this time of year have likely lost their leaves, as well. No problem. It’s still the perfect time to plant them. As long as the ground is workable, you can plant a container plant that has an intact root ball.
Visit us at the Mankato Farmers’ Market! We are located at the Best Buy parking lot on Adams Street. Stop by and get local sweet corn, melons, tomatoes, honey, soaps, textiles, baked goods, crafts, woodworking, pies, hot coffee, cheeses, local raised meats and eggs. The Market is open 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays, and 3:30-6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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