Well, the growing season, if not the gardening season, officially ended last week when most of the area was plunged into the mid- and lower 20s two nights in a row.Hopefully, you took some precautions in advance, but if not there are things in your garden that could have been saved that are now turning into what we scientifically refer to as “mush.”
It’s been a hard fall when it comes to predicting the weather, and many of us got complacent in getting our landscapes ready. Even now, the professional forecaster I rely on says the end of November can still get warm—or cold, he adds. And the snow pack up in Canada and Eurasia, which can affect our winter weather, is “impressive,” as he put it, so we may have a cold and snowy winter. Or not.
But no matter. It’s time to get ready.
The drop into the 20s so soon after it had been in the 70s sent me into a panic, as I was holding off on emptying pots, blowing out irrigation lines and getting the water out of fountains. At this point, you should be sure that all your automatic irrigation has been turned off and blown out, with supply valves shut and hose bibbs drained. Remember that a frost-free hose bibb is not frost and freeze protected if it still has a hose attached to it—so make sure hoses are disconnected, drained and stored.
Likewise, if you have a garden fountain, or even a small pool or pond with a pump, the sump should be drained and the pump winterized or removed.
Pay some attention to your garden sprayers as well, even if you store them in a garden shed or unheated garage. Clean them out with fresh water, pressurize them to clean the lines and filters, then empty them. Pressurize them again if they are the pump kind, and let the air blow out any remaining moisture.
Only a small amount of water in a line or nozzle that’s subject to freezing in the winter may permanently damage the sprayer. Remove the plunger, turn the sprayer upside down, and store the plunger and sprayer separately, unless you are absolutely, positively certain that the sprayer is completely dry.
Pots can be another big issue out here as many of us buy expensive terra-cotta or masonry pots that can crack and crumble in the winter if they are not properly cared for. Most of the better terra-cotta pots, like those from Siebert and Rice, as well as others, can remain outdoors with some cautions. The pots should be emptied of all soil and cleaned with a brush. The drainage holes must remain open and free throughout the winter so water can’t accumulate and freeze.
I think it’s best to invert the pots and lay the rims or edges on wooden blocks, but we’ve also been successful by shimming the bottom of pots that are not inverted to ensure that the rim does not entirely come into contact with the ground.
Cracked and damaged pots can present a larger challenge, and we like to get these indoors. Any crack in a clay pot can be a spot where water can be absorbed and then expand when frozen and cause the pot to fail along the crack.
We also have a large number of masonry pots and containers that we leave outdoors. The drainage holes must be open all winter, and there has to be free drainage so water won’t accumulate in or under the pot. In addition to shimming the bottom of these containers, we put a vertical cylinder of mesh or chicken wire into the drainage hole so falling leaves and other debris can’t clog it.
Smaller and thinner clay and masonry pots don’t seem to be as resistant to the freezing and moisture, so we stash those in garages and sheds. They can take the cold as long as they are dry and sheltered.
If you are storing firewood for a wood-burning stove or fireplace, the wood doesn’t have to be in an elaborate shed or shelter. However, your wood does need to be dry, and you don’t want the wood pile to be a magnet for rodents.
Firewood should be stored above the ground, and you can do this by stacking your pile or row on top of horizontal pressure treated 4-by-4s. You can create a wood crib by sinking vertical ends of 4-by-4s into the ground; the depth these posts need to be buried is proportionate to the height of the stack of wood you want to pile.
We put a tarp (brown) folded over the top of the pile just to keep rain from soaking from the top down. Then, as the weather gets colder and snowier, we unfold the tarp so that the wood is covered from top to bottom and side to side. You can use logs or rocks to secure the tarp, or sections of 2-by-8 metal pipe with a short bungee cord run through the center. The bungee hooks onto one end of the pipe, and then the free end hooks to the eyelet on the tarp. Just be careful that the pipes don’t lie on the ground, because if they freeze to the ground it can be tricky retrieving the firewood.
There are still leaves on some trees, but with the storms of late October most of them seem to have been blown down. I passed one house where the landscapers had done a great job of blowing every single leaf off the blacktop driveway—but onto the lawn. It then rained, and the leaves became matted down, where they remained.
Don’t leave leaves on your lawn. They will mat down and cause any grass underneath to rot and smother. Blow them into your garden beds, run over them with a mulching mower, or move them to the compost pile—but please don’t leave them on the lawn.
Do you have your winter deer strategy set up? If you have newly planted trees and shrubs that can be easily fenced, that’s probably the best protection. You can fence individual plants or groups of plants, but don’t use flimsy fencing and skinny posts. Hungry deer will try to push the fence away and trample the easily broken posts.
I think the best method here is to use at least 1-inch hardwood posts set in the ground at least a foot away from the tree or shrub drip line, and tall enough so the deer can’t lean over it. I over-fence my shorter Japanese maples so I can fold over the top of the fencing (which is heavy gauge plastic) so there’s a total envelope of protection.
And now that we’ve cleaned up our gardens, the deer will start to browse on our shrubs and shorter trees. So, for many of us, it’s not just a fencing strategy but a spraying strategy. Start applying your spray repellents now on a warm and sunny day so the spray can dry and set. Mark your calendar and respray every six weeks or so, depending on precipitation.
And don’t get complacent with your vigilance for ticks. The deer tick population has exploded again, and until it gets very cold for a long time, ticks will be a threat. One place where East End residents don’t realize there’s a large tick population is in the bay and ocean dunes. The ticks lie in wait in the beach grasses and short shrubs, just waiting to have you brush by and pick one up. No, they don’t jump—you need to make physical contact with them so they can hitch a ride. Again, the best repellent has DEET it.
Be careful, but keep growing!