Even though we have been enjoying some beautiful weather over the past few weeks, we know that colder weather is just around the corner. This is the North Country after all! If you are like me, the closer winter approaches, the more I want to get done in the garden. Sometimes, I feel like a squirrel trying to store nuts before the coming winter, rushing around to get all of my last-minute gardening completed.
Mulching is one of the best lines of defense for perennial plants against chilling temperatures. Mulching also can prevent the repeated freezing and thawing of soil that causes plants to "heave" out of the ground. The trick is not to mulch too soon. Mulching needs to be done after the ground starts to freeze but before the first significant snowfall of the year. If you mulch sooner, mice and other rodents may nest in the mulch, and plants may not be dormant.
To protect evergreens from cold, biting winter winds, build a windbreak. Place posts in the ground on the sides most prone to seasonal winds (usually north and west), and wrap with old feed sacks or burlap. Avoid plastic as this will heat up, causing the plants to burn on sunny days.
Winter sun can scald newly planted trees. Protect them by wrapping the trunks with special tree wrapping tape, which you can buy at most garden centers. Add four to six inches of shredded bark, wood chips, or leaves around the base of the tree. After applying, gently pull mulch away from the base. Wrapping also provides some protection against hungry mice.
Roses require special care at this time of the year. After a freeze has occurred (usually around mid to late November), mound 10 to 12 inches of soil around the base of tender bush varieties. This is not so much to keep the soil warm, but to prevent it from thawing and heaving during the winter. It also helps moderate temperatures around grafted crowns.
This month, rake up leaves from around fruit trees to help control insect populations and remove disease-causing organisms that overwinter on leaf debris. You will help reduce rodent populations by removing all fruit remaining on the tree or on the ground. Applying mulch near fruit trees is not recommended as it increases the likelihood of rodent damage during winter.
Anne Lenox Barlow is a professional horticulturist who enjoys gardening with her family in Plattsburgh. She also chronicles her gardening experiences at her blog www.northcountrygarden.wordpress.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.