10/23/16: My ‘Don’t Forget’ List 

Three weeks after closing I’ve finally finished my secret garden’s important work, like cleaning all five fountains and covering the huge one, raking and reseeding the front lawn, and mowing one last time. Having stuffed forty-six bulging bags with plant debris, I’m pretty much done out here. 
And so tired... 

My tropical plants, featuring, among other things, two nine-foot high banana trees and five huge black colocasias, were gorgeous and happy, but alas, they had to go, too. This much colder air serves as a stark warning: don’t wait. The job gets much, much more difficult in freezing weather. 
But I feel terrible about killing such beauties. (No, I couldn’t bring them inside; they’d be miserable. And, it would have been impossible to get them through the doorway.) 

Now I’ll wait for a hard frost (when the ground freezes to two inches deep) so I can trim back shrubby perennials like the boxwood hedge, lavender, buddleia, asters and roses. Lots of heavy snow tends to split these vulnerable beauties unless they’re shortened to just 3-4 inches. Dormant then, they won’t notice, or care. 

Here’s my annual list of other essential plant management tasks: 

1. By mid-winter, ravenous rodents and rabbits will gnaw on the lower bark of young trees and shrubs, killing them.  So I’ve securely wrapped tender trunks to two feet high with plastic coil, or a paper-like tree wrap. (I forgot to do this years ago, and lost a wonderful viburnum.) 

2. Weed-yanking continues: happily, the offenders, forced to root in my nutrient-rich cocoa shell mulch, can’t find a firm foothold. Plucking them out now, and in spring, is dead easy. 
Worms, by the way, find this mulch delectable. I have zillions more of the creatures than before I began using it ten years ago. 

3. After pulling out the still blooming annuals, the newly bare areas needed an earthy blanket. So after one particularly drenching rain I laid down an inch of cocoa shell mulch, then immediately watered again on a ‘mist’ setting to lock the shells together. Now the soil’s protected. 

4. I won’t prune my hydrangeas until spring. Their bare sticks collect fallen leaves, which form a thick, insulating blanket. I’ve kept their nether regions deeply mulched and moistened. (In the wild they do just fine without being fiddled with, if they have consistent water.) 
Remember the first five letters: 
H Y D R A. 
It’s hard to water a hydrangea too much. 

5. I took all the enormous hostas down, too, right to the earth, leaving no sign they were ever there. They’d get slimy and turn to mush otherwise, and slugs love that. (By the way, a serrated bread knife transforms hours of cutting into just minutes.) 
In spring new little hosta bumps will rise out of the warming earth. Then they’ll rocket up, unfurl and look majestic all summer. 
I love these huge plants, especially the blue ones... 

Most of what I grow are rated for zone 4, one zone lower than we who live near the lake usually experience, making their chances for survival greater when nature occasionally goes nuts and drops the temperature to sub-basement levels. Early snowfalls really help: under that soft white blanket it’s just 32 degrees. 

(By the way, it’s way too late to transplant anything. New rootlets won’t have time to grow.) 

6a. Icy, fierce winds desiccate plants. Evergreens, young trees and shrubs, for example, insufficiently hydrated in fall by rain or irrigation, die of thirst, so I’ve soaked the earth, mulched, and then watered again and again. Every drop is appreciated. 

b. Years ago I loosely encircled each columnar evergreen with thick green twine so their branches wouldn’t sag in heavy winter snows, and then pounded six-foot tall metal stakes, like the hole-y ones that hold stop signs, close to each one for extra, nearly invisible support. Twined loosely to these steel ‘backbones,’ the evergreens won’t bend to the ground in heavy snows. It only has to be done one time. (You’ll need a tall ladder, a heavy mallet and a strong arm.) 

In summary, I must: still: 
-Rake, rake and rake 
-Wait ‘til a hard frost happens, and trim. 

Then I’ll relax, play with Bryn, do music, read, and muse in my favorite chair by a nice fire. 

*One more important tip: 
Consider buying a garden meter in spring (about $25) to register the your soil’s acidity. This gadget can be found at any good nursery center. 

But wait! Don’t just poke its prongs into the earth: water that area very well first, wait a few minutes, then insert it, or wait until after a soaking rain. The meter can’t accurately measure acidity in dry soil. 
If it indicates that the earth is too alkaline for some acid-loving plants (registering 7 +), buy a bag of sulphur – not expensive- and sprinkle around. Water deeply. Wait a few weeks, and then enjoy your plants’ delighted response. 
Retest regularly.

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