16 Nov 2018


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The Lazy Gardener – November

Getting ready for winter

November is usually the time we like to prepare for winter and get in the mood for the winter season. This is when we pay close attention to weather patterns. Can we expect snow and ice, or might we still enjoy a few more beautiful warm days? The important thing is that we can respond and be ready for any extreme weather events.

Winter-proofing your garden
When winter-proofing your garden, timing is everything. The key is not to winterize your plants too early, because now and again we still get double-digit temperatures in November, which would be too warm for your garden plants if they are winter-proofed. The occasional frosty night doesn’t usually damage plants. We don’t normally start winter-proofing the plants until a period of ongoing frost is forecast. If we protect our shrubs and roses with a thick covering of leaves, they survive the winter better.

Using mulch for winter protection
Mulching is effective in the cold season as a way of insulating the ground against frost and drying out. Leaves, tree and shrub trimmings, grass cuttings, coconut coir, compost, shredded leaves, and comfrey are all suitable materials to use. Plenty of garden waste is accumulated at this time of year, so it’s easy to cover the beds with branches and leaves if necessary. It reduces the evaporation of soil moisture and also controls the ground temperature better: Protected by this insulating blanket, the ground cools down more slowly and warms up faster. Another benefit of mulching with plant matter is that the soil gets a good supply of humus and nutrients. Decomposing leaves also support soil-dwelling organisms. Another option is to cover the exposed soil with felt, foil, or burlap sacks. Our annual winter-proof green manure is now growing nicely. Our goal is to try to achieve ongoing planting to protect the soil structure.

Managing snail infestations
In the fall, snails like to lay their eggs in small holes in the ground, under a mulch canopy or a pile of leaves. Each laying can produce as many as 200 eggs. To save ourselves a lot of work and exasperation in the coming year, we have to prevent the young snails from hatching in spring. That’s why we are always gathering the soft eggs.

A feast for our feathered friends

Even if you feed the birds throughout the winter, it’s a good idea to set up your garden so that it can also sustain the birds during the cold season, by leaving some fruits, berries, and seed pods on the trees and bushes where the birds will find them. Shrubs such as medlars, firethorn, hawthorn, and sloes bear their fruit for a long time and are a rich source of food deep into the winter.

Hedgehogs: How to attract this useful animal into the garden
To get hedgehogs to make their home in your garden, you have to provide a favorable habitat and good conditions during the winter months. This includes the following:

  • Avoid spreading or spraying toxins in the garden.
  • Avoid the use of artificial fertilizers.
  • Provide safe hideaways, such as thick hedges or bushes.
  • Provide entry and exit routes through garden fences.
  • Provide hibernation opportunities in dry, shady locations, such as in piles of leaves or branches, or in woodpiles.

If you create these conditions, it won’t be long before these useful garden workers show up and make your garden their new home. Hedgehogs play a key role in pest control in the garden, since they consume vast quantities of snail eggs, beetles, and other undesirable little critters. But they will not survive the winter without sufficient fat reserves. That’s why it’s a good idea, from October onwards, to give extra food to any hedgehogs that are clearly still significantly underweight. Weight gain can be supported by giving them dietary fiber, such as wheat bran, as a supplement. Once the hedgehog has reached the minimum weight of around 500 grams, the feeding can be stopped. As a general rule, hedgehogs should never be brought indoors, since few of the animals that unnaturally spend winter inside a house are able to survive when released in spring.

Winter storage of potted plants
As soon as you start getting frosty nights, delicate potted plants that cannot survive the winter outside must be put into winter storage in a frost-free location. Plants that are sensitive to frost include fuchsias, hibiscus, petunias, angel’s trumpets, and marguerites. Olive and fig trees and oleander can withstand a few frosty nights before going into winter storage. We only leave the hardiest potted plants outside, in a sheltered location on the balcony or terrace. When it comes to hardy shrubs planted in pots or tubs, the main issue is to protect them from waterlogging and extreme temperature swings. That means it’s better to put them in a shady spot. The pots should be wrapped in burlap or felt. It’s also important to insulate the bottom of the pots well. Polystyrene is a good choice here; just make sure the drainage hole is not blocked, since freezing water stuck inside can burst the pot. When you bring the potted plants in to store them for the winter, it’s important to inspect them regularly for pests or disease, because such uninvited visitors can quickly spread in cramped conditions.

Tree trimming

Apple and pear trees are trimmed during dormancy from November to February. The old fruit varieties we cultivate are quite slow-growing, as is nature’s way, so we tend to keep our trimming to a minimum.

Before starting maintenance trimming we have to decide on our objectives. Firstly, it’s important to remove all dead, diseased, or damaged wood. Then we remove crossed branches and any branches that rub together or are too close to each other. Our next goal is to encourage next year’s fruit production, to trim shoots that are too long and to remove old wood. Branches growing back toward the center of the tree are cut with a pruning saw at the point where they grow from the trunk. The crown of the tree should be open to allow good air circulation and light penetration. Long branches should be trimmed to one half or one third of their size, always cutting just above a side shoot growing toward the outside. All saw cuts must be slanted downwards, so rain water can run off easily and not cause the cuts to start rotting. Old, spent branches and shoots growing from the edges of previous cuts must be removed.

Tree trimming tips
Where two branches are touching, we remove the weaker one. Thick branches which might splinter during cutting are removed in stages. We have to take a step back every so often and study the tree, to make sure the shape of the crown is properly maintained. Avoid aggressive trimming, otherwise the tree will use too much energy developing new shoots instead of producing fruit. It’s important not to prune when there’s frost, otherwise the wood will splinter more easily and this weakens the plants.

Sharp, clean cutting tools
Garden shears, pruning shears, and saws must always be sharp and clean to avoid causing any damage or transferring disease to the tree. Before and after use, we sanitize all saw blades and cutting surfaces with alcohol, or by briefly torching them. The blades of the garden shears should be rubbed clean with steel wool to remove any dirt and potential sources of infection. After cleaning, rub a little oil into the saw blade to keep it from rusting. Sturdy work gloves are good for protecting your fingers.

Proper winter storage of garden tools
Our garden tools made of copper have an advantage: they don’t rust and they also need much less maintenance than conventional tools. In general, we always treat our tools lovingly and take care of them every day during the gardening season. However, some prep work is necessary before you can safely put all the machines and tools away for a few weeks’ rest. After all, the goal is for everything to be fully functional in spring, so we can immediately get out into the garden and make the most of these first warm spring days, with all tools and machines in perfect condition and ready to go.

With the right preparations in winter, we reap these benefits in spring:

  • The tools can be used immediately
  • Well-maintained tools last longer
  • Little or no rust
  • Repairs can be carried out without feeling under pressure
  • The tools are stored properly in a well organized way
  • New equipment purchases can be planned in advance

Checklist: Lawn mower winter storage

  • Clean thoroughly – remove all dirt and grass
  • Remove and resharpen the blades
  • Change the oil
  • Spray the housing with a rust inhibitor
  • Fill the tank with gas, close the gasoline tank valve, and let the mower run until the engine stops. By doing this, the tank is full, but the carburetor and all lines are empty.

Cleaning and maintaining garden tools

Remove large pieces of dirt by hand or with a rough brush, then clean with a sponge and water, and dry thoroughly. Resharpen all edges. Then apply vegetable oil or grease to the tools.

How to store a garden hose properly
Remove all water from the hose. This prevents it from freezing solid and bursting. When coiling the hose, make sure there are no twists or kinks. Patch any holes or cut the holed section out and reattach the ends using hose connectors.

Garden shears
Clean, sharpen, and then oil.

Clean thoroughly. If necessary, inflate the tires and oil the bearings. Check if the handles are in good condition or need to be replaced.

Electric tools
Store the tools in a frost-free area.

General repairs
Replace or tighten loose or broken handles and take care of all the chores you didn’t have time for during the busy months spent working in the garden.

A brief biography of Remo Vetter “The Lazy Gardener”

Born in Basel in 1956, Remo ran an international company selling natural products for over 35 years. He’s now in demand as a garden designer, consultant and author and has created many successful garden projects in Switzerland, England and Ireland.

  • Self-employed since 2018.
  • Lectures in Switzerland and abroad exploring sustainability, our interconnected natural world, and finding meaning in life.
  • Numerous appearances in radio, TV and print media in Switzerland and abroad.
  • Monthly columns in various magazines.

His book “The Lazy Gardener und seine Gartengeheimnisse” Achieving Better Results in Your Organic Garden with Little Effort is available from atVerlag ISBN 978-3-03800-941-2