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Wrapping things up for the winter
Anna May Kinney

With "Old Man Winter" anxiously knocking on our doors, this is the time to pay some attention to those plants that need a little extra TLC to help get them through the next few months.

Many types of plants can be very sensitive to the damaging effects of cold temperatures, resulting in an assortment of winter injuries. Luckily, with a little prevention winterkill and injury can often be prevented.

Gardening here in the North Country comes with many lessons, the first I learned was to try and select varieties of perennials that are cold-hardy, and that even cold-hardy varieties often need a little winter protection.

I've received so many letters from people saying that they bought HARDY rose bushes; at least ones claiming to be hardy, and have had them die off the first winter. It's important to understand that what is hardy in the Ottawa Valley, Vermont, New Hampshire or in Southern Ontario would not be hardy at the -40 degrees the rest of us occasionally see.

What is winter protection? Winter protection is designed to keep plants consistently cold, not warm: the objective is to hold thoroughly dormant canes at a fairly constant temperature. Sudden, rapid, or frequent changes in temperature present a serious hazard. Because moisture in the canes expands as it freezes, quick freezing breaks cell walls inside the canes and destroys plant tissue; repeated bouts of freezing, thawing, and refreezing can ruin exposed canes.

Keeping roses over winter often starts during the summer, the first thing you need to remember is that the healthier your bushes, the greater their chance are of surviving a hard winter. Around the third week in October, you can start preparing for tipping the roses. The following pictures demonstrate how this is done.

Start off by watering them generously one or two days prior to tipping, this helps keep the soil most and workable. The day before tipping, give the plants a good dormant spray such as a liquid lime-sulphur material.

Next, tie the rosebush canes together to allow easier handling, but do not prune the bushes. Any open wounds on the canes may not heal properly; not forming protective calluses could open the plants up to infection and disease.

Dig a trench, starting away from and working toward the base of the bush. This trench needs to be as long as the bush is high. The width and depth should easily accommodate the bush or bushes. Pull the soil away from the shank (i.e., the root stock area between the bud union and the main branching of the root system) to facilitate tipping the rose. A spading fork is helpful for loosening the soil around the roots.

Once the trench is ready and the roots of the bush are loosened, gently using a spading fork push the bush into the trench. Now you are ready to hold down the rose bush while covering it with 2 or 3 inches of soil. If you don't have enough soil left over from digging the trenches, you can add some garden soil or heavy compost. Next cover the soil with about 18" of loose leaves, or hey. Finally I like taking a few pine boughs and laying them on top for added protection.

In the spring, you will begin uncovering your rose bushes around the first of April. I often remove the pine boughs in March and leave everything on another month. Take things off gradually as it thaws, by the 15th of April you should be able to raise the plants to an upright position, you will need to keep the canes moist to prevent them from drying out. Once they are standing on their own, spray them with an organic fungicide and insecticide, and keep them well watered.

Another thing we want to avoid in the spring is soil heaving. Soil heaving happens when you have temperature fluctuations, one day it freezes hard, the next it thaws. This heaving can push shallow plant roots up out of the soil, leaving them exposed to cold and desiccation (drying out completely). This affects new and shallow-rooted plants the most. First year perennials can be totally wiped out when this happens.

To prevent soil heaving cover your flower garden with a two- to four-inch layer of winter mulch, it is best to wait till the soil is frozen, but you should gather your leaves now before the snow makes it impossible to collect them. You can keep them in plastic bags until you are ready to lay them on your flowerbeds. Applying mulch at this time provides insulation and maintains a constant temperature. Remember to keep mulch pulled back from the crowns of perennials that are susceptible to rot.

If you have taken the time to plant a few young fruit or other types of trees this summer, take a little time now to protect them with a tree wrap. A tree wrap should be put around your young trees before the snow flies and off as soon as the snow is gone. Do this every winter until the tree developed a thick bark (this may be several years).
Once you have taken time to protect your plants for the winter, you can put your feet up, relax, knowing the money and time you have invested will not be frozen away in the cold. The End.