Though the season seemed endless, the recent cold snap has convinced even the die-hard gardeners that fall is well under way. Winter is around the corner, so before the holidays distract you and chill days drive you indoors, take advantage of the lingering warmth to tuck the landscape in to bed.
Here are a few suggestions for helping your garden head into winter:
Wrap young trees. With a few moments out of your busy schedule, wrapping a young tree to tuck it in for winter is an easy way to keep your sapling strong.
Winter can be a rollercoaster of warm days and cold nights, which wreak havoc on young, thin barked trees that have not grown old enough to form protective corky bark. Sun hitting trunks on south and west sides warms the bark and cells underneath, causing them to lose their cold protection. As nighttime temperatures plunge, these cells freeze and burst, resulting in sunscald on the trunk, an area that will be prone to disease in summer.
Sapling fruit trees are vulnerable to sunscald, as well as lindens, honeylocusts, oaks, maples, and willows. Protect them for the first two to three years they’re in your landscape by wrapping them with tree wrap in early in November.
Wrap from the ground upward, overlapping each layer over the lower one by one-half-inch until you reach the lowest branch. Use tape to hold the wrap in place, making sure the tape doesn’t stick to the trunk.
Mulch perennial beds. Leaves make an excellent blanket for protecting perennials and woody plants from the ravages of winter. In Colorado, thawing and freezing can lift roots, but covering the soil with a four to six inch layer of leaves will keep temperatures consistently cool.
If the leaves are from trees that aren’t diseased, pile them up around your plants and let the ones that blow into the beds settle there for winter. In spring, rake the leaves out and put them in your compost pile.
Compost rotting, dead plants to convert them to organic material that, tilled into the soil, holds water and nutrients for roots to take up. This is a great soil amendment to have on hand in spring.
To build a compost pile:
• Select an out of the way area at least 4-foot by 4-foot wide.
• Gather together both green and brown plant material – you’ll need twice as much brown material as green.
• For faster composting, chop the plants into small chunks before mixing them into the pile.
• Layer brown and green material into a pile, adding water with each layer until the pile feels damp, like a sponge. If the pile is soggy to soaking, add more material in until it dries a little.
• The compost should heat up within a week and be very warm to the touch. Once it begins to cool, turn it from the outside in and sprinkle with more water to recharge the microorganisms.
• When the compost no longer heats up after turning, looks like crumbled humus and has an earthy smell, it’s ready to be added to your soil.
Give trees and shrubs one last, big drink. Research has shown that the best thing to do for trees and shrubs as they head into winter is to give them a deep soaking before the ground freezes. This helps prevent winter desiccation of branches, needles, or evergreen leaves, so for good woody plant health, give them a last soaking when temperatures are warm. Be sure to disconnect the hose from the faucet once you’ve finished watering.
By Carol A. O’Meara. Carol is an Extension Agent – Horticulture Entomology at Colorado State University Extension Boulder County. For more information contact CSU Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Road, Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6377, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ext.colostate.edu/boulder.