What an unusual New Year's day it was today.... I spent the afternoon strolling through the Union Bay Natural Area, watching the herons, ducks, swans, and other waterfowl lazily foraging and napping in the sunshine. It has been predicted that we'd have a milder and more rainy winter this year, and so far at least the first half of that prediction appears to be holding true.
However.... anyone who has experienced a few years here in the Pacific Northwest knows that our weather patterns can fluctuate greatly from one month to the next especially during the winter months, and can quickly make all predictions change in a flash. And though the sun and mild weather sure feels great, we do need rain (and snow in the mountains) to ensure plenty of summer water 7 months from now!
So.... how to prepare your garden for winter no matter what it might bring? Here are some tips:
- There have not been very many hard freezes in the Puget Sound Basin yet, which for some plants can mean that they haven't totally gone dormant or "hardened off" this year's new growth. This makes them vulnerable to cold damage if/when a deep freeze- especially one that lasts a few days- comes our way.
- If you have any marginally-hardy plants in your garden such as Banana, Loropetalum, Tree Ferns, most of the Hebes, Eucalyptus, Phormium, and others, you will need to protect them if a deep freeze- even for a short time- is on the horizon.
- Most deciduous trees, shrubs, and perennials have lost their leaves and gone dormant now, so are less vulnerable than evergreen plants, which never go completely dormant and "wake up" more easily. Even hardy evergreen and deciduous plants can be "fooled" by stretches of mild weather that make it seem as if spring is arriving, and begin to send energy to their leaf or flower buds.
- Our worst winter damage comes when a deep freeze is combined with NE winds, so pay particular attention to plants in your garden that are exposed on that side. You may need to provide protection to them even if they are considered completely hardy here in the Pacific Northwest.
- Temporary protection and insulation can be as simple as an old bed sheet thrown over the top of a plant, and clothes-pinned to bamboo canes that are stuck deep into the soil. Surrounding the plant with a chicken-wire fence that is loosely filled with straw can provide longer-term protection. Marginally-hardy perennials can be insulated temporarily by heaping some coarse mulch over their crowns.
- If you have climbing roses, make sure their main canes are tied securely to a trellis or arbor so that high winds don't whip them around or break them. If the canes of your hybrid tea roses are over 6 ft tall and you are concerned about wind damage, they can be shortened a bit to prevent this too, but don't do any major pruning until late February or early March. In the Pacific NW, even winter pruning stimulates roses to begin sending out new growth, which is very vulnerable to freeze damage.
- Even if we don't get a major deep freeze or snow this winter, the pounding rains that are typical here in winter can do a lot of damage by compacting the soil around any plant. Compaction means that the air has been pushed out of the soil, which lessens its insulation quality and therefore creates more risk of root damage in a deep freeze. A 2-3" layer of loose, coarse mulch is good protection from cold and winter rain compaction for the roots of any plant in your garden. Just make sure you do not heap it over the crown of the plant unless it is for temporary protection.
- And while the sun and warmth is still around, take a long walk and enjoy... actually, I recommend that in any ol' weather!