We are heading into a week that I like to call my wrap up week. There are some things in our yards that should have been done by now, or at least you should finish this week. This is also the week America celebrates Veterans Day. Unlike Memorial Day, where we remember those who died fighting for our country, Veterans Day is to honor those who served in the United States Armed Forces. At 11:00 AM on the 11th day of the 11th month, an armistice was signed to end World War I fighting. President Woodrow Wilson declared this a national holiday so people could honor those who served by flying an American flag in our homes or businesses. It is a day to thank a veteran or a soldier for their service to our country and at 11 to have a moment of silence to pay our respects.
As on Memorial Day, poppies are the flower associated with this national holiday. We usually grow a crop of Icelandic poppies to be ready for sale now and throughout the winter months. The poppies keep blooming until they can’t stand the heat around June. I usually mix them in beds with delphinium, foxglove, hollyhocks, larkspur, snapdragons and love-in-a-mist (Nigella) for a great spring show. It is time to have located and planted these plants or seeds. Another thing I ticked off my list is that if you are going to green some areas with ryegrass, now is the time to get it done as they need some heat to germinate.
I have a few areas I like to green up for the winter months. At the beginning of my driveway I have a small area of turf that is lined with natural stone with beds that will bloom all winter and through Easter, which this year will be April 17th. When my winter-hardy flowers and tulips bloom at end of my driveway I like the grass to be lush green. It seems a little crazy since maybe two cars a day drive past my driveway, but it looks so good up those rock walls.
This is where Mimi and Barney, our Corgi, and I end the day after dinner. We go for a walk to digest our dinner and to see the plants with our lights on them, a very different perspective than seeing them in the daytime. Barney patrols around, protecting us from anything that might be hiding in the bushes like a ferocious deer or a lost cat. He also helps us by fertilizing every post trunk or rock that needs a good marking. There is another area close to the front door walkway that we enjoy seeing green throughout the winter, again bordered by rocks but with flowering Shi Shi Sasanqua that are at least 10 years old. With their dark green foliage and dark pink flowers, ryegrass makes it look even better.
There is a view from our kitchen window to the back of the dyke to our pond which is refreshing to see green plus in the spring when the same family of geese that have been nesting and hatching goslings for the past 10 years again try to outwit it local fox. The ryegrass makes the baby geese look a little cuter as they learn to navigate their new world. As far as I know, not one has survived that fox.
If you decide to play with green grass in the winter months by using ryegrass, be sure to use the annual ryegrass called ryegrass. It never gets tall enough to need mowing, and it’s not that hard for your real turf to recover when the spring green up returns. The other annual ryegrass grows very tall and sprawls over your turf causing recovery problems in the spring, plus who wants to mow all winter? I let the other 90% of my grass go natural, we like winter to look like winter and enjoy all the distinctly different seasons of the year. In the areas of my turf where we don’t put ryegrass seed and in our beds where we don’t plant onions, I put out a pre-emergence to slow weed seed germination.
Winter weeds can take over an area of your turf which, given enough time, can also make recovery during green-up very difficult for your grass. It can leave bare spots in your garden that you will have to deal with next spring. It’s too easy to stay on top of weeds in your lawn and in the beds during the winter months not to put out some pre-sprouting every now and again in February.
I winterized my irrigation system by getting all the water out of my pipes so they don’t freeze and split when it gets cold enough. I have a few faucets around the yard that I leave functional if we plant something new in the winter months that needs watering or if we have a dry winter. The faucets on the sides of my house are protected from freezing with outdoor foam faucet covers made for that purpose. It was this week last year that we had temperatures in the teenage years. It’s time to get ready for such surprises.
I haven’t started cutting back my perennials yet. I’d like to see the winter burn them a bit before I start that process. I feel that by preemptively cutting back this time of year I would be risking a weird November or December Mississippi warm up that might cause the plants to grow a bit. The new growth can be burned and do some real damage to the plant if the temperatures suddenly drop, as we often do. I cut back my perennials in stages as winter dictates until they are cut back to the ground when I can lightly cut them and put them to bed in the spring. I don’t freshen up the mulch in our large beds until spring. With more rain, cooler temperatures and shorter days, plants don’t take up much water. Mulching heavily in the winter feels like I’m just asking the soil to stay wet longer, which is good for nothing. I’d rather the bed’s soil be exposed to sunlight in the winter and given a chance to dry out between rains. When nighttime temperatures get back into the 60s consistently, usually around mid-April, I mow everything to help retain moisture and keep weeds to a minimum.
Mimi planted our garden this year with seeds of plants we enjoy all winter. She had the foresight to sow the seeds while the soil was still warm back in October. This year we will enjoy and share carrots, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, several types of kale, several types of lettuce and arugula. We have a close friend who can work magic on any kind of products we share with him. Win Win! In the same area of the garden are our Asian persimmon trees with branches pulling the ground, they have so many persimmons on them. I will harvest them today before the birds find them. I will also leave a few for them.
Today we will put our bird feeders out so the birds will get used to knowing “I can stop here to eat when the pickins get thin later this winter.” I have my barn full of this year’s firewood. I have my space near the back door filled with a few weeks worth of firewood that I will replenish as it is used. I keep the firewood near the house blown off when we blow off the back deck, as cockroaches and beetles like to make homes under the bark of the split firewood. If I don’t keep the wood blown off, a shell or beetle will find its way into the house when I bring it in to burn.
I camp and hunt a lot in the winter months. Mimi enjoys a break from me and loves to have big big fires while enjoying some solitude. I want to make sure she’s set up so starting fire is as easy as it can be for her.
My checklist of annual musts is complete. I hope you’ve reached that point on your gardening to-do list so you can relax and enjoy the gift of a winter holiday. Turn your backyard oasis into a place so amazing you’ll really start to believe there’s no place like home.