Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Preparing the Garden for Winter

Good afternoon gardeners,

As I write you it is 3:30pm and it looks as if the sun is already going down. We are indeed moving to the shortest days of the year. It has been a week of blustery winds, wet rains, dark skies with welcome sunshine breaks. Our daytime highs have been in the 50s, averaging in the upper 40s, and nighttime lows in the upper 30s. Our average first frost in Portland is November 15th, though we have yet to experience a frost. It seems to be an awfully warm Autumn, and I am so grateful for all the rain.

You can probably relate, I am spending a lot of my time raking wet leaves off the sidewalks and garden paths. Autumnal leaf color and fall is beautiful indeed, it is also helping me develop some buffed triceps muscles.

With the cooler wet weather settling in, unfortunately my husband has his first cold of the season and I am filling him up with home cooked soups and medicinal teas. I am boosting my own immune system with elderberry, echinacea, vitamin C, drinking lots of water, eating a healthy diet, stress management, and getting plenty of sleep. Every day I get fresh air and exercise in nature.

A break in between rain afforded me the opportunity to work in my own garden. The crisp air is refreshing and I love to monitor the seasonal developments. My 3 raised beds for vegetables are sown with crimson clover seed and covered by frost blanket to protect them from nut-burying menacing squirrels during their germination and early growth. The garlic and shallots we planted October 5th have lovely green sprouts.

I have left my herb raised bed uncovered as it still provides a daily harvest of parsley, rosemary, 3 types of sage, French thyme, lemon thyme, and winter savory for my cooking. With the colder weather, fresh basil is now a summer memory, luckily I froze bunches of sweet basil for winter cooking.

In addition to my herb raised bed I grow many types of herbs in containers:

Lemon balm
Lemon verbena
Apple mint
Chocolate mint
Scented geraniums
Pineapple sage
Tangerine pineapple sage

Throughout the summer and fall I harvested their flavorful leaves and fragrant flowers to preserve either dried or frozen. As these herbaceous perennials prepare to die down and go dormant for the winter I prune them down and pack the top of their containers with fallen leaves as warming winter mulch. I gather all the containers together in groups on my potting bench and deck. Grouping containers together provides warmth in a protected location on my deck.

Pulling out my stash of frost blankets from storage, I have assessed their sizes, quantity, and quality. They stand ready in a bundle by my containers. When the temperatures and/or wind chill drop below 30 degrees I cover my containers of herbs, perennials, and conifers with frost blanket and secure for wind gusts. Plants in containers are less hardy than plants in the ground. And a good rule of thumb is a well watered plant is less stressed by cold temperatures than a dry plant.

And speaking of your plants hardiness in cold temperatures, how about use those fallen autumn leaves as warming winter mulch? I rake leaves off the garden paths and deck. I let leaves remain in all of my perennial beds. I even rake garden leaves into the perennial beds. Fallen leaves are excellent organic matter, make great winter mulch, and provide protective habitat for overwintering beneficial bugs. In the late winter before spring growth pokes from the soil I cover the rain soaked decomposing fallen leaves with a layer of bark mulch to give my perennial beds a finished look.

Leaves I rake and clean from the house gutters, street, and sidewalk I put in the curbside yard debris rolling can. These leaves can be contaminated with yuck toxins I don’t want in my compost bin, edible or ornamental garden. After experiencing 15 years of Portland streets and sidewalks flooding due to an excess of backed up leaves, I urge you to please be responsible and rake up and dispose of the fallen leaves from your trees in the street, drains, and sidewalks.

Other winter preparation in the garden I’ve done is disconnecting, draining, and storing my hoses, sprinklers and watering wands. Now is the time to find your or purchase new outdoor faucet covers. They are inexpensive and simple. I will never forget the one winter I moved into a new rental apartment and the owner had not prepared for temperatures in the 20s. The first night in my new apartment I turned on the kitchen faucet, the pipes burst, flooded the kitchen, and the furnace wasn’t working. My new home was freezing and wet. What a mess!

It seems like we were still harvesting tomatoes 3 weeks ago and that winter is so far off. But winter is right around the corner and it is best to be prepared. Your garden will appreciate it!

Winter is not all gloom and doom, today I noticed my Helleborus niger ‘Jacob’ sending up white blossoms. November seems a little early even for the “Christmas Rose” type of hellebores. My winter daphne is fully budded looking ready for an early fragrant flower explosion.

And oddly enough, daffodils, tulips and hyacinth bulbs that usually sprout in February & March have already shot up sprouts. We shall see what this winter holds for us.

Happy gardening,

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