Get your garden ready to weather the winter

Experiencing numerous cold winters in our gardens has taught us many good lessons. First and foremost, never let your guard down.

Simple tips to get your garden ready for winter.

Simple tips to get your garden ready for winter.

Thanks to El Nino, our winter, so far, has been on quite a roller coaster ride, and the recent Arctic outflow means there’s a real possibility of challenging weather ahead.  The good news is we can take some steps to minimize the affects on our plants.

The first suggestion I would like to make pertains to hardiness.  Most of us know which hardiness zone we live in and should therefore be planting only those plants that will tolerate our zone.  Certainly slight variations will exist, but as a rule of thumb, most of the plants zoned for your region will take the worst most winters have to offer.  If you don’t know your zone, you can easily find out from a local nursery. Greater Vancouver is generally rated zone 7 and as you move east through the Valley, zone 6 is the norm.  From experience, however, I know that no gardener worth her or his salt pays much attention to zones.  Virtually all gardeners set out plants they know are not hardy in their region, but they insist that with a little extra protection these plants will survive.  Unfortunately, that protection is not always applied until it’s too late.

There are, however, some techniques that can add a few degrees of hardiness to many plants.  One thing I noticed after an early November cold spell a few years ago was that plants growing in very well-drained sandy soil survived the cold with the least amount of damage.  It seems that if a plant’s roots have had to work harder for moisture and food, the plant is tougher and stops growing earlier in the fall.  As a consequence, its branches and buds become dormant earlier, preventing severe damage from the cold.  These plants also tend to stay dormant longer and suffer far less root damage because with a lower moisture content, the soil is not moved about so much by the frost.  Planting all your plants, particularly the softer ones, in well-drained soils is a sure way to toughen them up.

A further protection for more tender plants is a good mulching with fir or hemlock bark mulch.  Mulching makes an incredible difference both in summer and winter.  It not only protects from the cold but it also helps retain critical moisture necessary at both times of the year.  It can also be worked into your soils in spring.

Immediately after a cold spell when the temperature is on the rise and the frost is coming out of the ground, it’s essential to get moisture back into our plants, especially for those planted under eaves.  Soak the living daylights out of the foliage of broadleaved plants and thoroughly penetrate the root system with water.  A good watering can really make quite a difference, saving buds on camellias and rhododendrons, as well as keeping the foliage looking good.

Desiccation from cold, drying winter winds is another major problem.  As if the severe wind on our more tender broadleaved plants, like aucubas, photinias, rhododendrons and azaleas, is not bad enough, winter sunshine can burn their foliage.  Not only is it important to create wind breaks around our softer plants, it’s also essential to keep winter sunshine off them in severe cold.  We always winter our rhododendrons in a lath house that both shades them and acts as a windbreak. One of the important things to do, particularly where plants are exposed to cold outflow winds, is to create a tripod of strong stakes and wrap the plants with the new insulating cloth, ‘N-Sulate’, which can make up to an 8-10°C difference.

It is also important to check bulbs and roots stored in garages and sheds to make sure they are insulated from severe cold and freezing.  Small greenhouses are wonderful for starting new plants and keeping over old ones, but plastic and glass are very susceptible to cold. Greenhouses need to be not only heated but also insulated with bubble poly on the inside to help alleviate the severity of the cold.  Wet heavy snow can break and bend many weaker plants, so staking them and wrapping them tightly with twine for extra support will make a huge difference.

Experiencing numerous years of cold winters in our gardens has taught us many good lessons.  First and foremost, never let your guard down.  A couple of years of mild winters can lull us into winter complacency.  Make sure you always prepare the appropriate winter protection.  Secondly, as bad as it may seem, don’t assume the worst until new growth appears, or doesn’t appear, in the spring.  Finally, cold winters are just a part of the gardening cycle.  Passionate gardeners will keep on planting tender plants – losing a few is part of the learning curve we all go through.  However, with a little preventative protection, you should be able to avoid losing anything.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Stephanie Higginson, president of the B.C. School Trustees Association, says people need to focus their attention on the upcoming byelection in Chilliwack. (BCSTA image)
‘Let’s not talk about Barry’ says BCSTA president on Chilliwack trustee

Higginson says impending Chilliwack byelection will require ‘laser focus’ to ensure balance of power

New Chilliwack Chief Ray Fust.
Chilliwack Chief Ray Fust in the mix for Swiss U20 roster spot

Fust is hoping to make the team that will compete in the World Junior Hockey Championships

An employee at a Chilliwack McDonald’s location tested positive for COVID on Nov. 21 (File photo by The Associated Press)
Employee tests positive for COVID-19 at McDonald’s restaurant in Chilliwack

One case was detected at the Vedder Road location, which briefly closed its doors

Asbestos bag from 2011. (Chilliwack Progress file)
New limits coming for asbestos at the Bailey Landfill in Chilliwack

Restricted to 20 bags per day per property because they don’t have capacity for larger loads

Cascade Falls Regional Park is one of several Fraser Valley parks that saw record usage during the summer of 2020. (File photo)
Residents flock to Fraser Valley parks amid pandemic

Some trails saw usage double during summer months of 2020

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the project site in Kitimat. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead B.C. police to illegal lab

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A woman being arrested at a Kelowna Value Village after refusing to wear a mask on Nov. 22.(@Jules50278750/Twitter)
VIDEO: Woman arrested for refusing to wear mask at Kelowna Value Village

RCMP claims the woman was uncooperative with officers, striking them a number of times and screaming

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

Most Read