Gardening in Winter

Gardening in Winter

While to many, thinking of gardening in  winter may seem to be a foreign concept, really the “thinking” is no different than ever, just the practicalities and chores are different. Now while we merely remember the plants we once had or perhaps look at photos, our outside gardening is limited to trimming and protecting the grounds we love

In fact as we dream of the upcoming spring, our thinking caps need to be on and our imaginations too get to run wild, while our gardens are fast asleep in the frozen ground(except for a weed or two!) . In many countries that experience winter in Dec-March, the temperatures do not take on the -20 C we here in Ontario have been experiencing this past week, but still experience the dormant periods most plants experience in the cooler weather.

 

weed Geranium

weed Geranium

While the gardens may be dormant, January and February are the few months where gardeners are not, but certainly do less physically demanding chores and store up their energy for the upcoming spring. Personally after the Holiday season ends, I turn my focus to my poor neglected house plants before the seed catalogs come pouring in.

Indoor Gardening Chores

While house plants are in a slow growth period as well, due to lower UV light levels even in a sunny window as well as generally cooler temperatures and humidity inside tend to slow down their metabolism, transplanting is not recommended. After having said that, I must confess I occasionally do that if the plant/pot ratio has gotten out of hand for a few sad struggling plants, knowing full well they will probably not get a new lease on life come spring and the busy outside garden season.

Here is my rough list of chores to accomplish in February and March. While this list is not as extensive as it could be, it serves as a starting point for you to jot down your own and keep you in the gardening in winter mode… knowing soon the first buds will form, plants will come to life and spring fragrances will fill the air!

cottage planter in January

cottage planter in January

 

 

Inside plants

-water sparingly and put humidity sensitive plants on gravel to provide extra humidity

-cut off dead/dying leaves and top up soil

-re pot leggy plants in to larger pots or cut plant back and put in original pot

-check for gnat flies/ treat with yellow sticky pads

 

Relocated garden tubers/plants

-check any plants brought in from outside to ensure no bugs are present and treat if necessary

-trim dead/dying leaves and top up soil

-check Chrysanthemum, Dahlia, begonia tubers for rot or dampness

-cut out any spots and ensure shavings/newspaper wrappings are dry and plentiful

Seed supply and propagation equipment

-check seeds harvested from last summers plants

-ensure they are still dry with no mold or mildew formation

-collect propagation trays, labels, soil less mix, seed dispensers etc.

Gardening tool tune up

Brave the cold if need be and gather all spades, trimmers, trowels etc from the garden shed and clean, sharpening and repair them.

 

Pruning

Gardening in winter also includes getting shrubs ready for spring. Despite the cold, February is a good month to prune deciduous trees and shrubs. Even shade, flowering and fruit trees can all be pruned  now, but spring flowering plants such as Forsythia or Spirea as what you will actually be pruning   flower buds  along with the new leaf growth.

Any pruning of these plants should not be done until after spring flowering is complete .Of course pruning a branch of spring flowering shrub from the back will do  little to ruin the overall look in spring  but allow you to force the blooms on it and give your winter gardening a preview of things to come.

 Odd and Ends

There are many odds and ends that still require our focus as the uneven temperature fluctuations of winter create hardships for plants and birds. Remember to keep your birdfeeder (s) full of yummy seeds.

Then of course, you can enjoy a lovely cup of tea or coffee while you daydream and plan with your gardening catalogues.

 

 

Bulb Beginnings

Fall is a wonderfully time of year to enjoy your garden and for bulb beginnings! Not only are flowers still in bloom without the heat of the hot summer sun, but here in Ontario Canada we enjoy the colourful changing of the tree leaves. Certainly the marvelous Maple shows its yellow, orange and red leaves as the last stage of the life of a leaf. Sumac trees and shrubbery radiate red in their long finger like leaves as does the burning bush ( aka Winged Euonymous alata)

 

Burning Bush

 

 

From trees to small garden perennials, the leaves that are leaving us…do so in a blaze of glory. Even some annuals show off their foliage as I witness first hand at my cottage this past weekend. In fact, intent on cleaning up the garden and cutting down the bare stalks of cone-flowers and other garden favourites, I headed out with spade in hand.

Cone-flowers

Bulb beginnings

Like many a fall or autumn day, the weather gave up another bright sunny day and the plants untimely death was postponed. Not only could I not bring myself to trim things back as cottage season comes to a close, but I finally  prepared to plant the most widely planted fall perennial… spring flowering bulbs , purchased several weeks ago.

 

Bulbs bust out of the garden along the sunny side garden in mass. Even the front garden has its share of purple, white and a few red tulips. Several years ago I planted white, pink and purple Hyacinths along the darker side of the house there and each year since they have burst in to wonderful bloom. Today I planted White Narcissus and purple Grape hyacinth spring bulbs whose proper name is Muscari.

 

With each bulb planted, I began to wonder where they originated and what family they were from. Basic research revealed that a vast number of bulbs such as tulips and crocus actually originated in Turkey before they were moved and in some cases stolen. Often research and exploration led to removal and relocation in some cases leading to extinction in the natural habitats.

 

Spring flowering Tulips

 

I was surprised to read that Turkey had areas stripped of bulbous plants, and that tulips were not all from Holland originally. Certainly as usual this fact led me to  dig deeper in to the origins of two of the more commonly found spring flowering bulbs.

 

Tulips

There are many spring flowering bulbs that are planted in the fall, but probably one of the most recognized is the Tulip. Tulips belong to the Liliaceae Family, Genus Tulipa, and have at least 109 species. They are found in Turkey and are indigenous to mountainous areas there as well as in central Asian countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan, specifically the Pamir Mountains.

Under the Ottoman Empire, which was founded in Turkey approximately 1299, commercial cultivation of the flower began. Approximately when the empire reached its peak at 1590 covering parts of Asia, Europe and Africa, tulips began to arrive in northwestern Europe. There is some confusion as to who introduced them to European but it was definitely politically connected and took place approximately 1559.

By 1573 tulips were seen planted in Vienna in several garden, eventually via private gardens the bulbs made it to the Netherlands officially in 1594.  For many years the bulbs were cultivated but on such a small scale that eventually they became highly coveted and a Tulip Mania began. This mania peaked 1636-37 when bulb trading costs were reportedly higher than a tradesman’s yearly salary! Despite the high prices, tulips changed hands rapidly, until the trade ground to a halt and commercial cultivation on large scale began.

 

 

Holland Commercial Tulip Farming

Crocus

Crocus, another widely popular spring flowering perennial flower actually grows from corms. From the Iridaceae ( Lily) Family, genus Croci with 80 species, these flowering plants are native to woodland, scrub and meadows in Central and Southern Europe. They are also native to, North Africa and the Middle East, on the islands of the Aegean, and across Central Asia to western China. Like the tulip, crocuses were also native to areas of Turkey.

Cultivation and harvesting of crocus was first documented in the Mediterranean, notably on the island of Crete. The first crocus seen in the Netherlands, where crocus species are not native, were from corms brought back in the 1560’s from Constantinople by the Holy Roman Emperor’s ambassador and by 1620, new garden varieties had been developed. Slowly from there commercial cultivation began and these plants also spread across the world.

 

Crocus

 

 

 

Bulbs and Corms present day

Thankfully with hybridization, research and mass growing fields bulbs of most types are economically priced.  Worldwide gardeners can certainly enjoy the blooms of perennial bulbs, whether they are spring blooming such as those in Canada and the United States.

For those of you who live in tropical areas or those who are above Zone 9 or who do not have the required temperatures of approximately 0-4 degrees C, tulips and many other spring bulbs would have to be forced in the refrigerator.  Of course, if your country has a mountainous region, such as Turkey, where most of the tulips, crocus and other spring bulbs originated, naturalized planting and garden planting may both be possible.

While there are a great many things to consider when planting bulbs, even the new garden can successfully plant for a wonderful spring bloom filled garden. As with most plants, the sun, soil and nutrients are all factors to be considered and knowing your garden’s details will help you when purchasing individual bulbs at local garden centres.  Certainly the staff there will be happy to assist you if the information on each bulb display does not have all the information you need.

Even local supermarkets often sell packages of bulbs in their florist area or even within the produce section. Usually there is printed information on these packages stating planting depth, light requirements, planting depth and plant height when in bloom.

 

My next article will cover all the basic information any gardener would need to plant these lovely perennials. In addition I  would be happy to answer any questions left for me under Comments.

Before long, armed with your trusty garden tools , helpful information and enthusiasm, your hard work will be rewarded in the Spring, with an inspirational  flowering garden to be proud of!

Purple and double pink tulips

 

Vertical Gardening

Vertical gardening is not a new subject to many gardeners. After all, there are hanging bags, pots and all manner of trellis systems available just for that purpose. However, on a recent lunch break walk at my workplace, I came across some really original means of vertical gardening!

These after lunch walks are a good way to burn off some extra blubber and a chance to check out the local neighbourhood gardens…sort of a mini garden tour! The blocks around the hospital in Toronto, where I work, are filled with larger brick homes that are built with their front porches all about ten feet or more above the city sidewalks.

Gardens there, are a fine example of vertical gardening and show a wide variety of landscape designs, using countless perennials and annuals. In fact, I found them so interesting I recently took my camera along to record some fascinating versions of  this gardening type.

vertical rock garden

Vertical planting and gardening design, or use of the upright spaces in your garden can be used in landscape planning in gardens of all sizes and purposes. While the steep front yards I see daily, provide limited gardening space, they also have the additional challenge of soil and water runoff due to the pronounced slopes. As I wander along the block, I see many mixtures of hard and soft landscaping, used to reduce this problem.

Several slopes have been professionally landscaped  with large interlocking stone retaining walls and a plant layout that incorporates evergreen shrubs and a variety of annuals and perennials as seen below.

A few homes have permanent retaining walls that provide a larger, space where the homeowners can do their own landscape planning. Two examples of this are the cool rock wall and the more functional cement block wall as the next photos show.

 

Others have a more casual approach with natural stone or flat slabs of rock such as field-stone, all of which are available at many garden centres.  In this landscape design, plants fill in the empty spaces to soften the overall look.

There are a wide assortment of plants suitable for use, from tuber rooted perennials such as Day-lilies to a extensive variety of tough rooted sedums, just to mention a few. In addition, annuals are often used for a pop of instant colour. Overall, the combination of hardscaping materials and plantings seem to be keeping the slope gardens in place quite fine.

 

Vertical gardening combination of Sedum and stone retaining wall

 

While the gardens at these homes seem to be doing well, lovely green lawns are few and far between. Certainly the gardening challenges here must be in keeping the finer roots of the grass in place, and moving on such an angle!  After working on my own lawn slope disaster I can certainly appreciate all the hard work of one homeowner as seen below.

Although all each of these home gardens had their own garden design and implementation issues, as a mini garden tour visitor, I merely get to enjoy the fruits of their labour. In addition I often make note of their design ideas for future use myself. In fact the vertical planting in these gardens triggered memories of similar gardens I had seen at many Canada Blooms.

Known of course for the amazing flowers and landscaping layouts in addition to so much more, this past April’s show featured the use of  climbing vines and clumping plants in a variety of structures I hadn’t seen before. One company designed their entire exhibit around old wooden skids or pallets as they are also known. From the sidewalk…or boardwalk to the walls and planters, the recycling of old in to the means of displaying beautiful, bright blooms, was fascinating!

 

Vertical gardening in skid wall

 

In addition to being a cool idea, I had three pine skids in my driveway no one wanted. Of course, with no directions on how to begin, they are still leaning against a tree, waiting for an inspiration to kick start me. Now that my garden had driven me to blog, I thought I should check out what was available on line. Eureka…below is the link to an article, complete with a picture and easy to follow directions for anyone to try their hand at vertical planting , turning one of these in to a planter! Away we go!

 

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/organic-authoritycom/grow-it-vertical-diy-wood_b_1638489.html

 

Certainly trellis and other garden structures are part of good landscaping design, but they are not the only reason for growing up. After reading several articles and thinking of it from a common sense point of view, the vertical way of growing plants accomplishes several things. Growing raised plants saves on garden space and provides shade below if for example, grown on an open pergola. In addition, it exposes the plants to more sun and yields more flowers.

Recent trends use many surfaces to allow for vertical growth, even in backyard gardens where such vegetable crops as cucumbers are being grown above ground on chicken wire structures. Because the plants leaves are less crowded, more flowers bloom and more cukes are harvested.  According to the next site, many other climbing veggies can be grown this way as well.

 

http://www.mercurynews.com/home-garden/ci_20995828/master-gardener-letting-sun-solve-problem?source=rss

 

Remember, when designing your garden, even growing of tradition plants such as clematis, climbing roses and morning Glories can help add a cottage feel to your garden. Trellis, hanging containers and layers of window boxes and slotted wall growth also be part of vertical planting of any garden layout.

Besides the aesthetic, these gardening features can add a relaxing tone, create shade or distract from eyesores like garbage cans, air conditioners or even provide privacy screening from your neighbours. Any way you look at it, vertical gardening is an interesting subject that lends itself to many applications, and to much more exploration…ready, set, go!

 

Xeriscape Landscaping

Xeriscape Landscaping

Certainly after posting a blog or two about the sad shape of my lawn and garden, I began to wonder how that showed the inspiration I claimed my garden gave me. Of course the landscaping information revealed that I was indeed having fun, even if I was “downsizing” the gardens at home.

The front garden looked sad as the before picture below shows, neglect and soon to be blooming Goldenrod had turned the poor garden in to an orphan. As the weather on this particular day was at a cooler, more reasonable temperature, I decided I was up to the garden intervention!

 

Front Yard gone crazy!

Xeriscape Landscaping site in waiting!

 

With garden gloves firmly pulled on, a trowel and lots of muscle, I began to yank and dig my way through several yard waste bags full of weeds. Stopping only once, for a cool drink of water and to take a picture of my progress, I wasted no time in getting back to my beautification project.

 

HALF WAY THROUGH

HALF WAY THROUGH

After several hours, I stood back to see plants I knew and loved actually smiling through! Okay, at least I recognized the Gaillardia, the post flowering Peony, the Sea Holly, the tiny piece of Phlox and some Red Bee Balm. Now the tall grass rustled as the individual stalks had room to move after some brutal thinning out.

 

Front garden Extraordinaire!

Front garden Extraordinaire!

 

Of course some would argue that deconstructing a garden is not really landscaping but based on several definitions that is in fact what I did. If Landscaping as defined by the Encarta English Dictionary is “the enhancement of the appearance of land, especially around buildings, by altering its contours and planting trees, shrubs, and flowers”, then I indeed become a landscaper.

Included in the new landscaping design are Porportulacs Snapdragons and some Stachys Byzantina better known as Lambs Ears. To enhance their growing spirit and of course their vegetation, the dry, lifeless and dusty soil needed help! I added some Triple mix, turned it over and watered everything thoroughly. Then I mulched and watered again so the shredded bark wouldn’t wick away any of the valuable moisture from the struggling plants to avoid there being part of a Lunar Landscape that was out of this world!

Portulacas

Portulacas

Certainly the view through the walls of any dome of the future would be an Earthy one. But, by the time we explore the Moon in seriousness, I’d be too old for the position but it is fun to think of.Xeriscape Landscaping would indeed be a challenge but one I needed to tackle for the challenge itself and to fill the dry corner garden in front of my house.I do have experience at growing plants in dry, dusty, lifeless soil where potholes and rocks are common. In fact, that describes most of my gardens.

Despite the soil differences normally found between my house and cottage garden, this year thanks to very little rain and certainly neglect…they have the same lousy earth. Even as I drove past the farmers’ fields and homes, in this dry summer, I see dust blowing across some empty fields, and between rows of corn and other veggies.

Green plants were growing thanks to many pumps, wells, miles of pipe and huge agricultural watering system. Along the side of the roads I drove today, the scrub trees were beginning to dry and crunch as the lack of rain is showing. Despite the resemblance to the lunar landscape, with potholes, rocks, dry soil and no vegetation, fields that have been left to fallow for the season give us the reality check of how lifeless spaces can drag us down.

Even this fact is not lost on country homes both large and fancy to the small clapboard homes that have housed farming families for decades. I noticed that flowerbeds show life with coloured blossoms throughout their contours and even when no garden exists, a pot of marigolds or geraniums can be seen on the porch. Of course there are many landscaping features in place you’d least expect…wagon wheels. Tractor wheels and even old machine parts with vines growing on the. Then there are the gardens growing in bathtubs and even in wash tubs.

 

Washtub planter

Washtub planter

 

Certainly the plants in these containers, live well despite often being neglected in out of the way places, and not having their roots firmly set in Mother Earth. In other words, to make certain our vegetation survives we need to think “lunar” and go for drought tolerant plants. Actually this area of Horticulture is called Xeriscaping or Xeriscape landscaping and is gaining popularity.

Weeds are generally far more drought tolerant, thanks to their good root base, but as I am planning this design and not letting nature blow things in whilly nilly, some research is needed. Currently I know that Purple Coneflower and other members of the Echinacea family thrive and bloom well with little water. Other good low water plants are Bee Balm, Yucca, and all the Sedum family just to name a few.

Bee Balm

Bee Balm

Purple Coneflower
Purple Cone-flower

 

   

 

 

                                             

As I have mentioned in the past, both the library, bookstores and the internet are a great source of information on these and other  plants that thrive on little water. Listed below is one of the many sites I have checked out for lots of gardening information and more on drought tolerant plants.

www.torontobotanicalgarden.ca

Despite summers scorching heat and with many garden centres selling off the last of their stock, finding and planting these may be challenging. Still, if your summer will be centred close to the garden and a good end of season sale can be found, by all means give it a shot…if inspiration can come from even on sprout surviving and you are up for the challenge…take a chance at Xeriscape landscaping and turn in to something out of this world!

Future gardening site!

Landscaping Plans for your Garden

Landscaping  plans  and ideas boggle my brain, so after finally getting my lawn in better shape as seen  below, I switched my brain to the garden. Of course my garden already exists,as battlegrounds where weeds compete with my perennials. Now the garden even has a  huge representation of grass, which makes it  sound like a lovley balanced space. Truth be told, the front is a mess of weeds, grass and some  mystery plants I once knew.

 

Landscaping plans gone mad

Truthfully the front garden has gone berserk…certainly not very inspiring. Of course since gardening is usually a joy for me, I have been motivated to take action. The first step is to get landscaping done at my house is not to create any more gardens but to plan out what each existing one is doing, other than being overgrown.

If you have a new house or an older one in need of refreshment…something to perk it up, then landscaping plans would be the first step. If you have a general idea of size and what your budget is, there are many routes you can take to get started. There are countless professional companies you can hire to sort out or plan your entire yard, or just the gardens. Searching your yellow pages by hand or via a computer search is a good place to start. In fact the listings below will put you in touch with countless resources at your finger tips.

www.landscapeontario.com     and   www.home-landscape-plan.com

The first site is amazing! It lists contractors, garden design plans, helpful hints and even plant resources and more. The second site also has a great deal of info to browse through!

Don’t forget  there are a great deal in books found at your local bookstore or library. The cool thing about books is that you can carry them around and hold them up to see how things might look Currently this is the best option for those like myself, who are caught up in the costs…okay I am cheap, hiring myself seemed to be the best plan.

Speaking of books and planning, I just happen to find a great book I had forgotten, staring  at me from the hall bookcase. Landscape Planning by Judith Adam, published by FIREFLY BOOKS is full of great information that applies to Canadian gardens, and pictures galore that go with it. I also am enjoying Judith’s sense of humour and her common sense approach to gardens  and landscaping.

 

 

In the book she lists her ten elements of Landscaping Design.

Elements of Landscaping Design

1.Personal style – we know what we like

2.Planning  by light, elements, soil. plants and location, self vs contractors etc

3. Lines of Definition-marking the perimeter of yards and gardens with curves and straight lines

4.Space Division – beds, patios, walkways, shrubs, grade changes and arbours just to name a few.

5.Scale and Balance – from the size of trees and plants to stonework and patios etc

6.Garden bones-prominent plants and structures for all seasons

7.Planting Style- what you prefer for example, Japanese, English country garden for overall or individual areas of the garden

8.Colour Choices-themes by colour and season that enhance and excite

9.Succession Planting-flowering tress, shrubs and perennials for all seasons including evergreens and features for winter interest

10.Architectural features-walkways, benches, trellis, gates, fences, bird baths, sculptures and more

For further information please visit my Ten basics of Landscape Design page on this site.

 

Spacing Requirements

 

Now I have come to realize the limitations of what planning I had put in to the front flower bed. Right now it is overwhelmed and under loved! It makes sense  when we are strapped for time we neglect many things including our poor plants!  Keeping this in mind, whether your landscaping plans include hiring a professional or landscaping on your own,  try not to get carried away with the  size of the beds and shrubs if you have limited gardening time.

In fact, if budget is also a major factor, try forming small beds . Other items to  consider are the amount of sun you get, what type of soil you have, and whether you want perennials that give you a good return on your money vs short term annuals. Of course if you are new at gardening and want to get the feel of things before sinking your teeth in to perennials, annuals will let you try a wide variety of plants until you get the soil/sun thing worked out.

 

Perennials

 

Assorted annuals

                                          

 

 

 

 

 

Next steps

Now what you might ask? Well  you can go check out the books and site, or visit a local garden center for hands on help with what plants may suit your needs and go from there. Me, I have decided my  city property has  too many gardens to keep up with and they are  all suffering as a result.

I get overwhelmed looking at all the weeds/wildflowers that now call my yard home, so downsizing and compartmentalizing is the way to go. Of course that may sound destructive, ripping most things out and shrinking things, but when there is only so much time to go around, I think of it ultimately as good time management.

First I have to just focus on a small area or section of each garden so the overwhelming mess doesn’t get me discouraged. I try to pick  a section of garden that is manageable to tidy well and mulch in a few hours. Once this is tackled then I move to the next section, and before the week is out I have one tidy, good looking garden.

To make all the approximately eight gardens look good is too big a task, as they are suffering after several years of neglect, so my landscaping plans include time management. Remember picking one small garden area at a time  means, more time to admire the lovely flowers in bloom and to make garden art like my scroll sawed Garden Shed sign below. 

Scroll Sawed Sign

 

For further information on scroll sawing, visit the great site listed below:

www.woodworkingtipsforwomen.com