Mulching, protecting young trees, and wrapping evergreens are some of the gardening tips for this month.
Photo by seishin17
There's a window of opportunity for mulching because you want to wait until the ground freezes so you don't give rodents a hiding place too soon, but if you don't mulch before the snow accumulates, it won't get done. If we could rely on constant snow cover, winter mulching would be less necessary, but in the absence of that reliability, we need to provide a winter blanket. This is mainly done for young and un-established, weak, or less hardy perennials.
If a plant is rated for a zone warmer than the one shown for your site, you might consider mulching. An example is crocosmia-a tender summer bulb producing spikes of red (usually) flowers in early summer. Although usually listed as hardy to zone 6, these can be grown even in a cold zone 3 with plenty of mulch or snow cover. You can find your hardiness zones online from the USDA (www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone/index.html). Some plants are better off without any mulch, especially in winter, when it can compact and encourage rotting of the crowns. These include coral bells, delphiniums, oriental poppies, iris, violas, and sedums.
To prevent sunscald and frost cracking on young, thin-barked trees, such as maples, wrap the trunks with tree wrap or use white plastic protectors. These materials will reflect the warming rays of the sun so the tree bark doesn't heat up on winter days, only to be suddenly cooled when the sun sets and the temperatures plummet.
Protect young evergreens from winter sun and wind. Set four stakes around a plant close to the branches, then wrap burlap around the outside of the stakes and over the top, and secure it with twist ties poked through the burlap. Make sure evergreens have a good deep watering before the ground freezes because they continue to respire, albeit slowly, during the winter.
The most important help you can provide for your hand tools this fall is to wipe them clean after use and before storing them for winter. Any moist soil left on the blades can encourage rust, and dirt can dull pruner blades. Also wipe wooden handles with linseed oil to keep them from splitting due to dryness. Winterize other gardening equipment by draining water from hoses, storing nozzles inside (so frozen water doesn't crack them), and adding preservative (from rental and hardware stores) to gas for mowers and other power equipment.
Leftover bags of fertilizers and soil amendments will not only tempt mice over the winter, they also can collect moisture and turn lumpy, and paper bags can start disintegrating. Pick up some inexpensive large, sturdy plastic containers with lids to store the bags in; they can also make it easier to dispense the material next time you need it.
If you keep birds around by feeding them, you should also provide water for them. The only realistic way to do that in winter is to use an electric birdbath heater that plugs into an outdoor outlet. Or, you might buy a birdbath with heater built into it already. They keep the water just above freezing and don't endanger the birds. Make sure to check the water every few days to make sure it hasn't evaporated, or to clean and replace it. Also make sure these heated units are plugged into a properly grounded and approved outdoor receptacle.
Watch for sales on bird seed this month, and stock up for winter now.
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