Great pumpkins and the coming of winter

by Don Trotter

ello fellow Earthlings. Winter is coming, my friends, and this is the time to get the garden ready for the chilly times ahead. We will be touch on some of the techniques for putting the garden to bed for the winter. So put on your coat and gloves and let's take a walk in the garden.

At this time of year we can feel the chill in the air and so can our plants. Many of our perennial plants require some sort of protection from this chill, as well as from the bitter cold in coming months. Plants slow down their metabolic rates in the cooler weather, similar to the hibernation that certain animals exhibit during cold weather. So, it is good to figure out ways to make hibernation dens for your plants when cold weather sets in. This process is known by many terms, but the most common term for winter plant protection is mulching. Mulching can be accomplished with a number of protective materials including newspaper, fallen leaves, pine straw, hay, coarse compost or plastic sheeting. There are also several pre-made products out on the market that are fitted to certain types of plants.

In warmer climates where frosts are infrequent, plants don't normally require the extensive insulating that they do in colder northern climates. Where winters are mild, a simple refreshing of the existing compost/ mulch layer is usually sufficient to insulate from periodic frosts and drying winds. I suggest putting down a dose of gypsum in alkaline soils or some lime in more acidic soils under the new mulch layer. These minerals will be assimilated into the soil so that in the spring these minerals are immediately available. I really like a new mineral material called Kelzyme. Kelzyme is a fossilized kelp/marine algae mineral that provides an abundance of calcium and over 50 other minerals to the soil and your plants. Kelzyme is not widely found in stores but can be ordered from Organic Resources Company at (760) 634-1066 (ask for Doug Gore). I have used this supplement for my soil three years in a row and have been very pleased with the results.

In colder climates, plants and soils require a heavier class of insulation. This is where such useful materials as pine needles (pine straw) and hay come in handy. One of my favorite materials for cold protection is alfalfa hay. Alfalfa contains an abundance of trace minerals and the plant growth hormone "Triconatol" that is a good promoter of plant vigor. One of the best things about using a thick layer of any of these materials is that as they slowly decompose, they emit heat. This is very helpful where winters are severe.

My favorite way to protect roses and other somewhat frost sensitive perennials is to mound hay over the lightly pruned plants in a small haystack form while the weather is still rather mild. As the haystack settles, I add some hay to the settled areas to ensure complete insulation of the plant. As cold weather sets in, the haystacks are completely settled and will not be affected by high winds. The plants should have at least a foot of hay insulation between them and the elements. Once spring weather begins to warm up and the threat of hard frost is past, pull the hay off of the plants and do your fine pruning. By avoiding severe pruning before spring, you allow more small-diameter plant tissue to protect the larger stems. If you severely prune your plants before piling hay over them for the winter and your insulation fails, there is nothing between the elements and critically important parts of the plant. Smaller diameter stems will freeze and die sooner and form protective scars for the larger plant parts if they are exposed to extreme cold. By using this technique of plant protection during the winter, you can be assured that your precious plants will be there for you when warm weather returns.

We will be discussing seed catalogs and starting seeds indoors next time for getting a head start on spring. Stay warm and I'll see you in the Garden!.

Got questions? Fax the Doc at (760) 632.8175 or Email him at Look for Don's book Natural Gardening A-Z from Hay House.