Sometimes we forget how lucky we are to live in the mild climate of coastal Oregon. Our summers are cool to warm but not hot and our USDA Zone is 8b or even 8a. But the nicest part to me is the mild winters that the ocean currents provide for us.
We get the south winds in the winter which helps to moderate the air temps too. And we usually can count on enough rain to keep roots of trees and shrubs well-watered. But that doesn’t mean we can get complacent when it comes to winterizing our gardens.
Of course, this is not the time to prune any shrubs or trees because that generally gives the plant the signal to put on new growth. But we can cut back our roses now since they have – for the most part - stopped growing. I cut mine back to about knee-height and remove any of the stems that are smaller than the width of a pencil. Those I take all the way back to a main stem. I try to prune just above an outward growing bud so when the rose does start new growth in the early spring, it will grow outward, leaving lots of room for air in the middle of the plant. This helps mitigate fungal diseases that seem to plague plants that are too thick in the center. If you are in an area of very strong winter winds, you might consider tying the canes together so they won’t whip around in the wind and damage each other. Roses with lots of thorns do the most damage to themselves in winds coming from any direction.
I also stopped fertilizing about 6 weeks ago now so the plants can harden off before cold weather. New growth right before cooler weather is not what we are looking for to keep our plants healthy.
Monitor deciduous trees and shrubs for signs of fungal diseases like black spot, anthracnose, downy mildew or shot hole fungus. Black spot is pretty easy to spot just from its name: black spots on leave. Shothole fungus is easy, too; it looks like buckshot holes in the leaves. The others are not as easy to identify and present mainly as severe damage to the leaves. There are hundreds of kinds of fungus and many are found in Oregon. In any case, if the leaves on your shrubs or trees have signs of any kinds of fungus, it will be worth the effort to rake as many of those leaves as possible and dispose of the them in bags. This will help stop the spread of the fungal bodies to other plants. Don’t compost leaves, though, as the fungi have the ability to “hide” until they find a new host.
Learning how to compost leaves and other yard debris is a whole other topic and I will give some tips about that in my next column. Suffice it to say for right now, focus on getting as many of the leaves off the grass and from around the base of trees as you can.
If you have a veggie garden, it will make it even better if you plant a cover crop for the winter. This will fix nitrogen into the soil. The cover crops can be turned over in the spring before they go to seed to enrich the garden even more. Legumes like vetch, crimson clovers and fava beans are good choices for Tillamook gardens.
What I do still keep doing is watering the gardens deep enough so that if we have a dry spell, the shrubs and trees will have had enough water to see them through. I know we generally get enough rain in the fall and winter, but like everything else about 2020, this is not a normal year. As I write this column in early November, the weather is sunny and warm. So we can’t take it for granted our plants will be okay with the little bit of rain they got over the summer. It may sound silly, but if we reach November 11 with still not much rain, get the hose out and give everything - even established plants, but especially ones planted this year – a really good soaking.
It goes without saying that the tools need to be cleaned and oiled before putting them away. And I move my patio furniture inside, too. Yard art was taken in long ago as was my ceramic fountain. Not all fountains will be susceptible to freezing cold and may be okay if left outside. But ceramic pots and fountains will hold water which freezes, expands and then cracks the pot. So those are all best moved inside.
Now comes time to relax for a bit, think about what worked and what didn’t and record that in your garden journal for next year. By learning the history of our garden, we will avoid repeating mistakes.