ACCORDING to the Farmer's Almanac, this winter will bring "another active storm track over the Pacific Ocean that will guide systems into southern and central British Columbia and western Alberta, giving them a wetter-than-normal winter."
Some weather forecasters say there's no La Nina and no El Nino occurring this year and accordingly, we will have a normal winter. One thing is for sure, the garden needs to be put to bed before the worst of the winter weather arrives because when it's pouring rain, freezing or snowing outside, it's too late to do much winter protection. So here's a list of winter preparation recommendations for the garden.
? Roses: All shrub-like roses should be cut back by one-third of their total height to prevent wind, rock and snow damage using square pruning cuts only. On climbing roses, cut back only the longest extension growths from this season to prevent wind and snow damage. All roses should be completely defoliated now to remove every last leaf from the plant. And all rose leaves should be picked up off the ground. Dispose of all rose leaves into the green waste. Removal of all leaves from roses and the soil will clean the garden of disease preventing reinfection of roses next spring from spores that overwinter on the leaves.
? Mulching: I know that I talk about this too much, but if you were going to mulch at one time of the year, fall would be the best. Beyond soil fertility and weed suppression benefits, mulching in the fall prevents soil damage that occurs each time a rain drop impacts the soil, destroying and compacting the soil's structure. There's a mulch for every person's taste. Regular bark mulch suits almost any garden.
Wood chips, if you can find them, are excellent for trees and shrubs. Composted bark mulch is for when you want the dark black agricultural look. And compost or manure is for the permaculturist types. Beyond the soil health benefits, a well-chosen and properly installed mulch will dramatically improve the appearance of the garden and protect it from the damaging effects of rain, frost and snow. ? Cut and clean, but not too much: Cutting back perennials and cleaning the garden is a time honoured fall ritual, but today we are wise enough to know that cleaning the garden has to be done with an eye on the garden's ecology and the health of all organisms that live there. Accordingly, clean but don't be obsessive about your cleanliness. Leave some organic matter (food) for soil and plants. If you cannot stand to leave anything then replenish the garden's ecology by installing some mulch. When it comes to cutting back perennials, cut back all old foliage to the ground but leave attractive flower stalks standing for the winter to add interest in the garden.
? Winter protection for tender plants: If you grow gunnera, lemon trees, fan palms or any other marginally hardy plant, now is the time to protect them before the real winter weather arrives. For gunnera, you have to cut off all the leaves and remove the long leaf-stems and then pile the leaves upside down on top of the large pink gunnera buds to protect them from freezing. For palm trees, lemon trees and other tender plants that are grown in the ground, a more elaborate winter protection system is needed. You can build a mini-greenhouse out of plastic and wood to prevent freeze damage. But those structures require regular venting to prevent moisture buildup and ensuing mould growth. Or you can wrap and cover the entire plant with straw, burlap and plastic. Some people install Christmas lights inside of the plastic structure for heat, which can work as long as it does not get to hot or too humid inside the plastic. Either way, do it now, not later, because once those tender plants freeze, it's game over.
? Add plants with colour for winter: Lastly and most importantly, plant colourful plants to adorn the winter garden and cheer up your spirits through the long winter ahead. Plant many colourful winter pansies in the garden beds, along the driveway, in pots near the house or outside of that particular view window. Plant colourful foliage shrubs such as gold-leaved heathers, blue-leaved conifers or variegated broad-leaved shrubs to add colour by the house. And fall asters and chrysanthemums always brighten up and personalize the entry to the front door.
At my house I regularly cut attractive foliage and seed heads from the garden and arrange them in a vase at the front door to greet my visitors during winter. If your garden doesn't provide enough material to cut, visit the local florist or garden centre to find fresh cuts for the front door or kitchen table.
Todd Major is a journeyman horticulturist and chief horticulture instructor at the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden. For advice contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.