Monday, November 24, 2008

One More Chore for Fall

I am sure you are all getting ready for Thanksgiving and then Christmas and you probably aren't thinking about the garden. So if you need an excuse to avoid the mall this weekend, here it is. Broadleaf evergreens and evergreens don't go dormant during the winter like deciduous trees and shrubs do. To keep them from drying out over the winter you should water them whenever the temperatures go above freezing. You can also apply an anti-transpirant which will keep them from losing moisture through their leaves. This is especially important with broad leaf evergreens, such as boxwood, holly, azaleas and rhododendrons. Do your azaleas and rhododendrons not bloom in the spring? This could be the reason. These shrubs set their blooms in the fall (I've actually had a PJM rhody bloom in November when we've had a warm up) and if they get stressed over the winter from drying out they will jettison the blooms in an effort to save themselves. You can see the difference it makes in looking at the pictures on the right. These are from the Wilt Pruf web site and are quite dramatic.

So what is an anti-transpirant? It is a polymer layer that is sprayed on the plant leaves, or needles in the case of spruce or arbor vitae, that keeps the plant from drying out. There are several brands available, including Wilt Pruf and Wilt Stop from Bonide. The Wilt Pruf lays down multiple layers of polymer and seems to last longer. You should apply it in late fall, Thanksgiving is a good reminder, whenever the temperature is above 40 degrees.

This is a great product to use in the spring and summer when you are transplanting shrubs, as it helps the plants retain moisture. You can also use it with your fresh Christmas trees, wreaths and roping and on your winter containers.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

More Fall Chores

Most of the leaves are off my trees and neighbor Dave and I were out raking yesterday in our respective gardens. I put the patio furniture away and the hose and really started battening down for the winter. When we first moved here a friend of mine said of this time of year, "Say good bye to your neighbors because you won’t see them until spring! They hibernate, too!" And she was right. Unlike other parts of the country where people really enjoy winter sports, we don’t here. I suppose it has to do with the dreary, gray days. (Mr. Ross tells me that in most parts of the country backing up to high tension power lines results in lower appraisal values for houses, except in Minnesota where it is considered a bonus because it makes for great snow mobile trails.)

Well, I guess what keeps us going is knowing that in six months spring will be here and our gardens, like us, will be springing back to life. I am already starting to plan for next year and my leaves are helping out. I want to put in a mixed herbaceous border, as they say in England, so I need to get rid of some grass in the back. Mike in the greenhouse department gave me this tip so I am trying it out this year. When he puts in a new planting area, he spreads newspaper over the area and then piles leaves on top. By spring the leaves and paper have smothered the grass and then you can till in the decomposing leaves to help amend the soil. So this week I have 3 bags of leaves for the city to pick up, whereas neighbor Dave has seven.
It is pretty shady back there and I want plants with brighter foliage to lighten the area up. I will be planting lots of the gold tone and chartreuse hostas and hakonechloa grass in addition to the limelight hydrangea and itea shrubs that I planted last spring. One thing to keep in mind when planning a new bed or landscape is to think about what the area will look like when not in its prime. What is there to capture the eye at that time. This is a piece of statuary from my old house. It looks great mixed in with the plants, but it also gives me something to look at during the winter. I can see this area from my kitchen window so I do see it through all seasons.
I also planted the last of my bulbs. I had a few daffodils and crocus bulbs left over from my bulb forcing project last month so I got them planted as well. (Last month I planted some bulbs in a container to force them to bloom earlier than they normally would. I had them in the refrigerator until last week when I moved them to the cellar steps, where they would stay cold but not freeze.) I used a bulb auger attached to my electric drill to dig the holes for the left over bulbs. I have a few planted up the beds on either side of my front door, but to change it up a bit, I planted these last few in the lawn right in front of the raised planters. I accidently dug up one that I had planted earlier and was pleased to note that the roots had really started to develop. So that is one other thing I have to look forward to this spring.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Winter Rose Care

If this doesn’t convince you winter’s on the way, you are either in a major state of denial or already in Florida. I’m staying close to home except for spending the afternoon at the MCC French movie festival. Seems like a good place to spend a cold, icky Saturday afternoon.
This is the time of year we get a lot of calls and questions about cleaning up the flower beds. Believe it or not, the garden has not yet gone fully dormant, so the short answer is don’t do anything! What a relief! I was out this morning looking at the roses I planted this summer. The climbing rose I bought to cover the chain link fence between me and neighbor Dave has grown at least 4 feet! The yellow rose has also grown and still has buds, one that is even starting to open.
Roses are a tough sell in our climate. The winter is pretty hard on them and just when they start to look great in the summer, the Japanese beetles get them. There are many varieties of roses that do well here in northern Illinois. The best roses for our region are the shrub roses. Though their flowers are not as large or fragrant, they are very floriforous, meaning they have many blossoms, and many are everblooming, meaning they will have flowers all the time. They are also very hardy in our area and don’t need a lot of maintenance.
That said, what should you do with your roses this time of year? You do need to provide some type of protection for the roses. This is not to keep the roses from freezing but rather to keep them from coming out of dormancy prematurely during those times when we get an early warm up and then a deep freeze. If you have grafted roses, which would be most of your hybrid tea, floribunda or grandiflora roses, you can use rose collars to protect the root graft. This is a plastic collar that fits around the base of the rose and is then backfilled with compost, blackdirt or garden soil. The benefits to using the rose collars as opposed to rose cones, is that you can do it earlier in the fall and you don’t have to prune the roses to make them fit under the cone.
If you opt for rose cones, wait until late December when the roses are fully dormant, then prune them back to about 16"-18" or enough to fit under the rose cone. Some cones come with a removable top. On days when the sun is out, the temperature under the cone can rise to the point where the rose starts to come out of dormancy and begins to transpire and produce moisture in the cone. This can lead to disease problems later on. On warm sunny days remove the top or the entire cone to allow the moisture to escape. Be sure to remove the cone for good in early spring.