With colder months on the way, we’re shifting our project focus from outside the house to inside. We’re putting our landscaping and gardening plans on hold until next spring and getting to work on decorating bedrooms and finishing furniture. But before we put our backyard projects on the back-burner for the next few months, we have to get our garden ready for winter. We’re not always very good at taking care of the garden, but this year, we’re determined to give our plants some extra TLC throughout the cold months in hopes that they’ll be spectacular next year.
Last year, we picked out half a dozen beautiful rose varieties from our favorite garden center. We carried them out to the garden, set them down in the area we wanted to plant them, and then ignored them for the rest of the year. Somehow, they survived both the summer and winter, and actually bloomed once we got them in the ground this spring. But we didn’t trim them or cut them back at all, and they’ve been quite misshapen and gangly all year. They don’t need a hard pruning until the weather starts to warm up next year, but before winter sets in, they need to be cleaned up just a little so that they are less susceptible to stormy winter weather. We also dug up all of our flower bulbs and tubers — dahlias, daffodils, gladiolus — because they have a tendency to get gobbled up by hungry animals. They’re being stored in a cool, dry spot until the ground thaws next spring.
Without a doubt, the most successful thing we have growing in our garden right now is blackberries. We planted a thornless variety called Triple Crown, and they produced bushels and bushels of huge, juicy blackberries this summer. Blackberries produce fruit on the previous year’s new canes, and once a cane has produced fruit, it’s done being productive. To get our blackberries ready for next summer and keep them manageable, we cut out the canes that produced fruit this summer and trellised the new growth that will produce fruit next year.
For the first time ever, we decided to cover our strawberries with a layer of straw for the winter this year. Most winters here aren’t terribly cold (just ridiculously rainy), but we do get the odd, occasional hard freeze. This is really just an experiment. Hopefully our plants will overwinter better than ever and get a good head start next spring. The added bonus to covering the berries with straw is that in the spring, you just brush the straw off to the side, and the new strawberries sit on a bed of straw, not dirt. They stay really nice and clean that way.
My husband and I have never let the climate where we live be a limiting factor in what we try to grow. It gets too cold here in Oregon in the winter for citrus fruit, but we’ve come up with a pretty good system that has resulted in really fruitful trees. We have probably 100 limes and 100 lemons that will be ripe in the next few weeks! A few years ago, I read an article by a horticulturalist that said the reason citrus trees don’t produce much fruit indoors is that they really don’t like being indoors. That’s a no-brainer, right? So last year, we planted our citrus trees in large, plastic pots (the kind that big trees come in at the nursery), and we put the pots on little wooden platforms with wheels on the bottom. Our trees stay outside as much as possible, but when the evening temperatures start to dip below 40°F, we push the trees into the garage for the night. In January and February, when the temperatures are pretty consistently below 40°F even during the day, we just leave the trees in the garage, occasionally putting the door up on warmer days so that they get some sunlight and fresh air. The trees end up being outside for most of the year, and they seem to love it! The temperatures are still warm enough right now for them to be outside all day and all night, but this is the time of year we start to monitor the weather forecast closely. Even one frost will do damage.
The last thing we’ve been working on to get our garden ready is making sure the bees are tucked in for the winter. My husband had a seasoned beekeeper come out and show him how to winterize the hives. They inspected each hive to make sure it was healthy, treated boxes with oxalic acid to keep mites away, took out queen excluders (a barrier that keeps the queen from laying brood in the honey), put mouse guards on all the entrances, and took off any extra boxes that hadn’t been filled. Because all of our hives were new this spring, we didn’t harvest any honey this summer. The bees should have more than enough food to survive the winter, but we added some high-protein pollen patties to each hive just to make sure we have strong colonies when spring comes.
We aren’t always the best garden stewards, but we hope getting everything winter-ready this year will make our garden even more beautiful and productive next year.