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Dallying In The Dirt, Issue #198 --- Get the rain barrels emptied before they freeze solid.
November 30, 2014

The weather person, (I’m not going to get myself in trouble by blaming a specific gender,) is driving me crazy. One day is lots of snow and the skis are ready to go and the next it’s back up to +8C and all the snow is gone. I found the hose and filled the pond but foolishly did not bring it inside. Yesterday was -6C and snowing and tomorrow is supposed to be +11C. Is the gardening season over or is it not. There is always a bit more cleanup that I can do or that I could cheerfully ignore. I really must empty the rain barrels. Doing so is a great opportunity to make sure that all of the evergreens are deeply watered. Winter damage to most evergreens is not because of the cold but rather from the warming sun. Late in winter the sun warms up the needles on the evergreens and they wake up and start to transpire. That’s a fancy horticultural term meaning to pass water out of the pores of the leaves in order to create a flow of water and nutrients from roots to leaves. The problems occur when the leaves give off water and then call on the roots for more and there is none there or it is totally frozen. Making sure the soil around your evergreens is thoroughly moistened in the late fall helps to prevent these problems. That’s where much of the rain barrel water goes now. The rest will go on the soil where the new bulbs were planted to make sure that they have sufficient water to power their colourful display next spring.

The Rutabaga and Brussels Sprouts we had for dinner Thursday night were fresh from the garden and delicious. The great freeze only enhanced their flavour. They are frozen again now but if the crazy weather person is correct I will be harvesting again tomorrow. There are also Leeks and Parsnips waiting out there for me. That was the last of the Rutabagas but there are several more meals of Sprouts and Leeks. I will get them all out of the garden during this thaw and store them in the refrigerator. The Parsnips will stay in the garden and be pried out of the frozen ground as we want them or they will stay there and be the first vegetable on the table in the spring. The berm has not been mulched and that is starting to look like a spring chore as it’s unlikely that I can find a mulch supplier whose piles are not frozen solid. I notice all these things while sitting in the sunny warm solarium where great things are happening. The big yellow flowered Cymbidium is showing colour in its buds. The large Hibiscus tree that I was going to sacrifice to the snow and cold this year has found its way inside because I had a couple of requests for it. It was frosted a bit and has now been severely cut back to see if it will spring back to life. One of the real treats is the Hibiscus that I did decide to keep. It is a new variety with multi coloured blooms that was one of Loblaw’s exclusive plants this spring. It did not do that well early in the summer until I moved it into more sun. Now in the sunny solarium it has 3 - 5 blooms open on it most days, that’s if I remember to water it. It seems to want water more often than the other plants but the results are worth it.

In another 3 weeks or so I may actually get around to thinking about Christmas shopping. I would hate to start to early. What do you get a gardener for Christmas? More importantly what do you get an Assistant Gardener for Christmas??? There are lots of toys and gimmicks and a few good tools out there for gardeners but the A.G. has no need of them. Not to worry I have almost a month to come up with a solution to this dilemma. For those of you who have a dedicated gardener to buy for I have one great suggestion. A wonderful garden writer friend of mine produces a “ Gardener’s Journal” each year. It is filled with tips and ideas and sources for all things gardening. Its main feature is the pair of pages for each week of the year with sections for each day where you can record your success and failures and other influences in your garden. The planting tips are timed for gardeners around the Toronto area but can easily be transposed to suit anybody’s needs. You can find it at this link. I admit to being a lousy record keeper but if I was better at it and used this book more extensively then maybe I wouldn’t be guessing as much and I would make fewer mistakes. I do recommend good record keeping and this little book makes it easy.

Now it’s time to answer a few of my reader’s questions. Don’t forget to check the front page of the Website for frequent short ideas for current gardening activities.

Anita Asks? Sorry to see you have snow so soon also. We and everything in the garden are buried under feet of snow. I have inherited some old grape vines in a garden. Could you please tell me at what time of year do I prune the plants. This past year produced no fruit, just branches covered with leaves trailing to the ground. I think I have my work cut out for me.

Ken Answers! I prune my Grapes on a sunny day in late winter. There are several styles of pruning but all of them remove about 90% of the old vines. A little online research should give you some ideas for rejuvenating the old vines. Here's what I've done with mine.

Penny Asks? A good friend of mine gave me a David Austin rose last week that because of the weather never got planted. The temperature is supposed to be above freezing next week. I know I should have given it to a friend who lives in Whitby, so what should I do with it?

Ken Answers! If you can find bare thawed soil then plant it. You will need a deep hole because you want the bud union at least 1" - 2" below the soil surface. If you can't plant it, cut it back to 2 or 3 stems about 4"-5" long, then keep it in the cold room, just above freezing if possible and see what emerges in the spring.

Brenda Asks? I recently purchased my first house and, believing I had a deadline to relocate the garden from my 8-year rental home in Toronto before the end of this year, I’ve dug out and moved almost 300 perennials and shrubs during October to the new house. I burlapped the roots of the larger shrubs, and the rest are in pots with good soil. However I ran out of time (because I’m still working!!) and have not been able to get them in the ground before freeze-up. The plants are all pushed together at the back of the house, with mulch packed around them. I know a good snow cover will definitely help insulate, but there’s no guarantee of course. How likely is it they will survive the winter? Or should I start saving now to replace them all?

Ken Answers! Winter comes early on the years you don't want it to:-) With a good layer of mulch, I think that most of your perennials should survive and also a fair number of the shrubs. When spring comes, remove most of the mulch and water everything well. Wait to see what emerges and they may be a bit slow, and then plant the ones that make it. Good luck .

111 Trent St. W.
Whitby ON

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