By Andrew Padula, Contributing Columnist and owner of Greer-based Padula's Plants:
Being in a garden that is going to sleep for the season can bring on feelings of accomplishment, relief, sadness, frustration, or peace, along with countless other feelings that nature stirs up.
The first hard freeze for the season here in the Upstate is just around the corner. Many herbaceous perennials have already gone dormant to the point where this past seasons growth/stems can be trimmed back. Sometimes dead winter growth on these herbaceous perennials can pose a hazard to your eyes or face if you are leaning close into your garden while you are cleaning or planting. Once they are trimmed back, a fresh layer of mulch can be applied to your entire garden. Applying mulch during November will help insulate your existing mature garden plants from the upcoming cold arriving through the Winter season. Applying a thicker layer of mulch closer to existing garden perennials and a thinner layer throughout the rest of your garden will give the future seedlings from your mature garden perennials a better chance of showing themselves throughout your garden when Spring arrives.
November is also a great time to plant seeds in containers that need to go through outdoor winter temperatures. Keeping the seeds in containers will help you identify the seedlings easier when they germinate compared to if you were to plant the seeds directly outdoors in your garden where countless other seedlings will be coming up around them. Planting these cold loving seeds in containers will often times give you a higher germination rate compared to if they were left to be moved around your garden or washed away thanks to winter storms.
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December through January is a great time to burn branches, leaves, garden debris, and other natural wood pieces in a fire pit. Doing this will give you a supply of wood ash and natural hardwood charcoal to add as a garden soil amendment slowly over time. The completely burnt white/gray wood ashes and the partially burnt natural hardwood pieces are great garden soil amendments in the right amounts (a little bit goes a long way). Always try and wait to burn debris right before a decent rain is in the forecast or right after the rain has passed. There are many other natural amendments that can be incorporated into your garden soil during the Winter months (ie. pine needles, kaolin clay, mica sand, creek sand, pulled weeds, fallen leaves, buried small dead branches, limestone, peat moss, and mulch pieces).
Thanks to the majority of plants in shades of green and other colors being gone for the season after a few hard freezes and stretches of cold outdoor temperatures during January and February, the changing terrain of the landscape will once again begin to show itself. Forested areas in nature along with areas around your property that have larger exposed stones, exposed areas of red clay and sand, forest floors covered with dead leaves, and evergreens, will be the majority of what is visible when you look around. Take this time to look for erosion issues on your landscape that may have occurred from summer storms. These areas will erode faster during winter rains when less plants are out to help slow down erosion. Plants are very important in helping to slow down fast moving water. They help absorb the rainwater. Bbroad plant leaves help to keep the soil from being directly hit by raindrops, and plant roots help to hold the soil around them in place. For these reasons when stone is the main choice for erosion control, always consider adding plants throughout the stone in open areas between the stones. The plants will help the stones stay in place on sloped terrain and help to keep the effects of gravity at bay.
Winter is a great time and look around your garden to see where planting a colorful evergreen during the spring would fill an open area that looks bland and empty during the winter. Garden designing during the winter months is often times overlooked. Garden design and preparation in the colder outdoor times should be focused on the main design of your new or existing garden and hardscape, the future health of your garden and any future plant additions. Since you can see the terrain of your land easier, this can help you decide whether your garden could be or should be expanded. If you decide to expand your garden during the winter, then aside from design, amending the soil is the next priority. Amending the native soil during the winter in your garden area allows the natural amendments you have added the time they need to be incorporated into and become part of the native soil for your garden plants to use when Spring arrives.
Around the end of February, some very hardy perennials are starting to say hello and leaving dormancy for the upcoming growing season. The changes you see in your garden perennials as they leave dormancy may only be visible in subtle differences, or with evergreens the changes that occur as they leave dormancy during this month may not be visible at all. Unless you have a garden that is designed with and centered around very cold hardy perennials, your garden will still look asleep for the season during most of February. February is also a great time to mulch your garden once again to help protect it from the upcoming spring rains and to help fix any erosion issues that may have occurred during Winter storms.
March is a great time to plant seeds outdoors that need a month or more to germinate but do not require much cold. During March, take the time to look for garden perennial seedlings that you have plans for and may have come up early because of unusual weather/warm spells that sometimes occur here in the Upstate during late winter/early spring. Transplant these seedlings into containers and keep them away from frost and freezes that may still arrive during March and into April. While you inspect your garden during March for the upcoming growing season think about what mature perennials can be transplanted or divided up during the upcoming couple of months and where the new transplants would benefit your overall garden design.
Listening to and seeing all of the wildlife that wakes up during March can help with the timing of your future garden plans as spring arrives.
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