Winter garden worries far from over

A couple of years of mild winters can lull us into winter complacency, says Brian Minter

Thanks to La Nina, our winter so far has been milder and drier than usual.   However, winter doesn’t end until March 20th, so there could still be a real possibility of challenging weather ahead.  We all have unhappy memories of the severe cold at the end of last February.  The good news is we can take some steps to minimize the affects.

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 which will tolerate that 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 three 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 sandy loam 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 or even with sawdust.  Mulching makes an incredible difference both in summer and winter.  It retains critical moisture necessary at both times of the year.

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 to the amount of damage to so many plants.

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 wind break. One of the important things to do, particularly where plants are exposed to cold outflow winds, is to create a tripod of strong bamboo canes and wrap the plants with the new insulating cloth, ‘N-Sulate’, which can make a 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 wrap 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.

Just Posted

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country's crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of June 13

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Madalyn Clempson, 18, of Chilliwack sings ‘Hiney Yamin Ba-im.’ She won the Intermediate Vocal Canadian Music award at the Performing Arts BC Virtual Provincial Festival. (YouTube)
Chilliwack youth bring home awards from provincial performing arts festival

Chilliwack’s 18-year-old Madalyn Clempson ‘a bit stunned’ to have won Intermediate Vocal Canadian Music

These three kittens, seen here on Thursday, June 10, 2021, are just some of many up for adoption at the Chilliwack SPCA. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Find Me My Furever Home – Three kittens at the Chilliwack SPCA

Kittens were in ‘rough shape’ when they came into the Chilliwack SPCA, now ready for adoption

Jacqueline Pearce and Jean-Pierre Antonio received the BC Historical Federation Best Article Award on Saturday for their story about translating haiku written in the Tashme internment camp.
Article chronicling haiku in Japanese internment camp near Hope wins award

Tashme Haiku Club’s work was preserved and recently translated, authors write

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Chilliwack family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

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

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Most Read