Gardening: Unseasonal warm fall good for some plants but not for others

Central Alberta has been enjoying an unseasonal warm fall. The initial snow covered most of the herbaceous plants insulating them for the winter but warm temperatures has melted snow in sunny areas. Hardy plants will survive but the tender ones might not unless they receive more insulation. If in doubt, cover the plants with an insulating layer such as: snow from other areas, compost, straw or leaves.

Transpiration rate of evergreens increase as the temperature increases using the moisture reserves in the plant’s roots. Take the time to water evergreens in sunny locations with a slow running hose which will soak into the ground. Some but not all the moisture will make it to the plant’s roots.

When the evergreens loose too much moisture the needles and scales turn a dull shade of green then brown. Broad-leafed evergreens such as Azaleas and Rhododendrons do not thrive on the prairies as the broad surface of their leaves transpires too much moisture during the winter months.

Plant transpiration can be slowed by applying a spray product that slows down transpiration. The water soluble product that needs to be reapplied each time the plant comes in contact with rain or wet snow. It is possible to purchase the spray at most garden centers or online.

Covering the plants in burlap does not change the air temperature but it does block the direct sunlight and the glare from the snow from reaching the plant which also helps to slow down transpiration.

Melting snow can cause large icicles on buildings and plants. Large icicles are heavy and can bend or break branches. It is best to remove the icicles as soon as they appear.

Use the warm weather to walk around the yard looking for rodent tracks and damage. New plantings and fruit trees are both susceptible. Pack snow and remove all tall grass around these plants and it diminishes the possibility of mice and voles reaching the plants. Small rodents are less likely to leave cover and travel out in the open where there is a change that they will become food.

All deciduous trees and shrubs can be pruned at this time of year during dormancy. Pruning is a relatively easy process if simple rules are followed.

Always cut back to another branch or bud. Any part of the branch that is left without a bud will die and eventually rot. The stub will look unattractive and has the potential to let insects and diseases into the plant. Cuts that are done correctly are smooth allowing the plant to form a callus over the cut.

Start by removing all dead wood. Then remove branches that are rubbing on another branch. When given a choice keep the strongest branch that is pointing in the correct direction which is usually away from the center of the plant.

Remove all suckers and water sprouts. Water sprouts are branches that grow long and straight upwards without branching. They are often the result of removing too much of a plant at one time. The maximum amount of a plant that should be removed in one growing cycle is a quarter.

Lastly, shape the plant. Prune to enhance the plant’s natural shape. Trying to keep a naturally tall tree as a shrub will require constant pruning as the plant will always revert to its natural shape. This is why short hedges often get trimmed two or three times a season.

Enjoy the warm weather outside as there is always something that can be done in the garden winter and summer.

Linda Tomlinson is a local horticulturalist that can be reached at

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