Ask any child and they will quickly say that the year is divided into four even seasons.
While this might be accurate for some part of the world, Central Alberta does not seem to fit into the pattern. This year much of spring felt like winter. It was cold enough that the native plants were late breaking dormancy.
Often, when this is the case, the plants will mature quicker and by the end of summer they will be at their usual stage of development.
One just has to look at the trees to know that this year is different. Usually by the first of October, the trees in Central Alberta are bright and colourful unless there has been a strong wind and they are bare. This year we are still surrounded by green trees with some leaves turning colour. When the temperature dropped and stayed below freezing, leaves that are on the trees froze. They will eventually drop to the ground.
There might be some die back in this year’s wood but it shouldn’t be a huge problem.
A bigger problem will arise if a large amount of snow falls before the leaves do. Leaves catch and hold the snow making branches very heavy to the point where they will bend and break. It is advisable to go outside and shake snow from trees and shrubs when they start to showing signs of strain. A good method is to shake the tree using a broom or rake. Be sure to wear a hood to deflect some of the snow.
Pruning can be done any time trees and shrubs are dormant. This year it is best to wait a month to prune, giving the plants time to adjust to the current conditions.
Until the last snow fall, the ground was very dry and any moisture, snow or rain soaked in quickly. Take time during the next warm spell to water in all evergreens, especially those that are on the north or south sides of buildings.
It is important to water newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials until the ground begins to freeze. These plants will have a limited root system which will only be able to able to access water close to the plant. One of the best materials for insulating tender plants from winter weather is fallen leaves.
Collect the leaves when they are dry and spread them over or around the tender plants.
The leaves provide insulation against cold and changing temperatures.
Larger plants can be protected by making a frame around the plant and filling it with dry leaves. The frame can be made of any sturdy material, but chicken wire, netting, burlap or a box are commonly used. Once the frame is in place, fill it with leaves, taking time to push leaves downward to eliminate air pockets.
At present time, fallen leaves are not plentiful. They can be replaced with peat moss and straw, which also work well to insulate plants.
Snow is also one of nature’s perfect insulators. An early, heavy snowfall will protect plants all winter.
Taking time on one of the warmer days to do the last bit of garden work will help the plants overwinter. It will also insure that there is less to do in the spring. The sudden cold weather caught many by surprise but according to the seasons, it is still fall.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org