Whidbey Examiner


Keeping plants warm, snuggly in the winter | Sowin ’n’ the Trowel

December 2, 2013 · Updated 1:21 PM

It makes good financial sense to get your home and vehicle ready for the winter. So doesn’t it make just as much sense to put some effort into winterizing your landscaping? After all, according to horticultural and lending experts – not your usual bedfellows – landscaping is one of the few home improvements that always increases both the curb appeal and the value of your property. Not only that, but that added value can grow as the landscaping grows and matures over time.

Besides, if you’re reading this column, you either enjoy gardening or you enjoy the results of gardening.  The last thing you want is to see your hard work during the other three seasons of the year come to nothing after an ugly winter catches you off guard.

The easiest thing to do is mulch those beds. Wood chips, pine needles, straw, grass clippings or leaves are all good examples of organic mulches that can insulate against the rapid freezing and thawing that can cause plants to heave out of the ground. It’s not so much to insulate in-ground plants – if you’ve done your homework when buying them, they should be hardy for our climate – but it never hurts to add another layer of protection as well as weed suppression. For that, your mulch should be at least two or three inches deep and always much deeper in “new” areas where you’re planning on planting for the first time in the spring.

Don’t pile mulch flush against tree trunks because it can invite disease as well as rodents, which will find it a great place to hunker down and gnaw the daylights out of your young trees, possibly girdling them.

And consider the size of your mulch pieces. Large wood chips can harbor slugs and snails.  A too fine mulch may impede water and gas exchange in and out of the soil. You can pull your mulch back in the spring to help warm the soil up faster and push new plant growth, then re-mulch in the summer to conserve moisture.

And your container plants? Fall is an excellent time to plant perennials because they can concentrate on growing good, healthy roots instead of putting their energy into producing flowers and seeds. That being said, you don’t have to rush out and put all your container plants in the ground to get the insulation benefits.

Bring all of your tender plants indoors, into a garage or under a protected covered area, then use these tips for protecting the rest.

The bigger the pot, the more insulation. The thicker the walls of the pot, the less chance of cracking in a deep freeze. If a pot is tapered so the frozen soil within can slip upwards without restraint, it is less likely to crack.

When in doubt, gather your pots into groups and surround them with leaves or another mulching material wrapped with a floating row cover, landscape fabric, wire cages or blankets of evergreen boughs. You can even nestle smaller pots inside larger pots or boxes filled with packing peanuts.

Just make sure you have something holding those packing peanuts in place or the next breeze will make mortal enemies of your nearest neighbors.


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