Pine Bluffs Post - Serving all of Eastern Laramie County since 1908

Our Changing Weather

 

October 8, 2020

Courtesy of Mike Heath

Above left: Incorrect mulch. Above right: Correct mulch.

WOW! How about that smoke Saturday morning? I went out to the shop not long after daylight and it was pretty clear when I went out. I spent the morning getting my garlic ready to plant and it was 1 p.m. when I stepped back outside. Needless to say, I was shocked at what I found. All I can say is, "Otherwordly". I don't know what else to call it. The world was yellow, smoke was hugging the ground, and it looked like it was almost night time. I've been in worse, but that was a lifetime ago. A friend of ours traveled to Wuhan, China when they adopted their daughter. He told us that's what it's like all the time over there. That's why the Chinese people are always wearing masks. Pollution not Corona virus. The good thing, at least for us, is that a weather front was on it's way and it pushed the smoke out by the next day. Thank God for Wyoming weather.

By Sunday afternoon it was easy to tell there was a big change in the weather coming. The temperature started to drop and by Sunday night it was actually cold. Just another precursor of what's coming soon. I think it's God's way of telling us that we'd better be getting ready because winter is just around the corner. It's time to get everything ready for the cold weather. This is where I start harping on an old, old topic. Water, water, water. If you haven't been watering your yard, trees, and shrubs then it's time to get busy. All of your plants need to go into the winter almost bloated with water. That's the best way to get them through the winter healthy. I just put my hoses back out after the cold snap so I could start rolling them back up again. It'll be that way all winter. Every chance we get we need to water.

Another good winterization task is to mulch your flower beds, roses, trees, and shrubs. A good bark mulch is best. There are basically two types of mulch: single grind and double grind. They really are just what they sound like. Single grind mulch has gone through the grinding process only once. That leaves quite a bit of the wood unground and whole. It also hasn't had much of the foreign material sorted out of it. I've found pieces of dolls, garden hoses, shoes, and all kinds of "stuff". It's also full of sticks, sometimes quite large sticks, and branches. I wouldn't use single grind in flower beds, but it does work quite well around trees and shrubs. The best thing about single grind mulch is that the wind won't blow it away. Double grind mulch had been filtered to remove the material that really has no business in mulch and it's been ground finer. It's much more regular in size and aesthetically pleasing. Double grind mulch is often dyed brown or red to provide an accent to the garden although it can also be left natural. The greatest drawback to double grind mulch is that the wind will blow it way if it isn't netted. In other words, you'll probably have to replace it every year. In a protected flower bed it'll most likely do okay. In my beds I can usually go two years without replacing the mulch. Mulch helps to insulate the roots against extreme cold and heat. The ground will still freeze in the winter, but the bitter, desiccating cold will be kept out. Any moisture will be protected as well, giving the roots more time to absorb it.

As you mulch, be sure not to "volcano" the mulch. That means to stack it up high around tree trunks. Three to four inches of mulch works best, but not a deep cone. Any more than the three to four inches invites small rodents to burrow into it. This isn't good for trees and shrubs because they'll feed on the roots all winter, usually leaving a dead plant in the spring. Another good thing about the mulch is that you can run a perforated pipe underneath it for watering. The mulch over the top will give the water more time to be absorbed by the roots before drying out. That's a positive all year round.

If you've planted any vegetable that will overwinter you'll need to mulch them as well. Again, three to four inches of mulch is needed. Check the requirements for your veggie, though. Some can need as much as six inches. Straw mulch works best on vegetables. It's light enough that the new growth can push up through the straw. Heavier bark mulch can be too much for many vegetables and they won't push through. The drawback with straw mulch is that it will have wheat attached to the stalk that will germinate and grow. This year I allowed the wheat to grow and ripen in six raised beds (3 ft x 16 ft) just to see what I would end up with. I harvested enough wheat for about ten pounds of flour. I thought it was pretty neat to do that...once. Now that I've done it, I'll never do it again. It was a great experience, but the wheat took up nutrients and water that I'd rather have gone to the garlic. The good thing about the wheat growth is that it's easy to pull. The root system is shallow and not well attached. Definitely straw mulch on vegetables. Just make sure to put something on top to hold it down. I use plastic construction fencing and stake it down. The plants can grow up through it without any problems. Just make sure to remove it in the spring before the plants are dense enough to pose a problem.

Last but not least is a good root fertilizer. A fertilizer high in potassium and phosphorus and low in nitrogen is the best fall fertilizer. It will help strengthen the root system so the plants are better able to take in nutrients and water. Since nitrogen tells the plant to grow and put out foliage, you most definitely don't want any more nitrogen than necessary in the fertilizer. In fact, no nitrogen is best for this application.

I dislike rolling hoses out and then rolling them back up constantly throughout the winter. It's bad enough in the summer, but cold, Brrrr. Unfortunately, that's what needs to happen if you're going to take care of your plants and lawn over the winter. Unless...drum roll please, you've taken the time to install irrigation systems with poly pipe. I love poly pipe and drip tape. They can be left out all year without damage. The worst you may have to do is drain them after use. Frankly, I have some poly pipe that's been out for twenty years and it's still good. My drip tape has been outside for the last four years and it's still in use. I've never drained the drip tape, but I have drained the poly pipe. That's as easy as taking the end caps off. I'm in the process of burying most of my poly pipe so I don't hit it with the lawn mower, but that's a story for another time.

All in all the way to get through the winter is to water, water, water. Water is the key to everything. Good luck and stay warm. If you have any questions, ask a Master Gardener. It's what we do.

 

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