Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Plants back to life? Anita was right

My horrible dry and frozen leaves have thawed and look normal now and just may get normal fall colour.

A week ago I was worried that my life (as a gardener this season) was over! The temperatures dipped to minus 15 celsius and the leaves on trees including my little silver maple were horribly crispy and shrivelled. Registered Consulting Arborist Anita Schill told me not to worry. Trees that are horribly dry may need water, she said but everything else will be okay. I am publishing a photo of a leaf from the same maple I was so worried about a few weeks ago. It has thawed, come back to life and looks like it will go into normal fall colour and perhaps senesce normally. Go figure. You were so right Anita!

Remember if your leaves have not dropped and do not look like "normal" fall leaves you must get out and water right now. While the soil is still alive. Don't wait until February to think about this. In all many gardening years this is the first time I have seen heavy freezing as a general rule on trees in the fall before the leaves have dropped.

Empty Water Barrels Now

Well --- I drained my water barrel and then placed a container under it to catch the last of the water, tightened the tap - and then I went away. When I came back it had snowed and the melted snow has filled the barrel again! Okay - truth is it is time to physically disconnect the barrel and put it in the garage or upside down beside the house for winter. A rain barrel is a big item but if it is not put away and kept dry it might split and break during one of our freeze/dry cycles this winter... And it is not just me- Clean Calgary also reminds us to empty barrels and their argument is convincing- open the tap and empty it out today! Before it gets cold again. We are not living on Vancouver Island - we are in Alberta!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The End of Summer?

Yes there is snow on the ground this morning. I guess this is good for oil prices?

It is definitely too early for temperatures this cold and the trees know it. After a warmer than expected fall with a leisurely and extended summer the frost came and it stayed. The first few frosts started turning the leaves and we had a bit of fall colour coming on. Some hardy old poplars even shed their leaves. Good for them. Now it is so bloody cold we are all checking on last minute seat sales and passport renewals. The trees can't leave town so they are stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place. Many leaves have frozen rigidly on the stems before they started to change colour and this is the worst case scenario.

What it means is that no abscission layer was formed between the leaves and the stems. Instead of slowly pulling in all the reusable nutrients and storing them away in the roots for use again next year, the leaves and stems froze rigidly on many trees and shrubs and the nutrients are now locked in the dead leaves and are hanging on instead of falling off. Woody plants and even old standby perennials like peonies usually put the minerals and sugars and nitrogen back into the roots and that way they have a resource come spring. The plants were caught with their pants down. Some arborists are not as worried. To paraphrase Anita Schill, Registered Consulting Arborist with Tree & Leaf in Calgary: "The short days have triggered plants to begin to acclimatize ... they have been storing away food for a month already" she said. She is not worried trees will lose all their hard labour and nutrients with this sudden turn of events and thinks there is something we can do to save them - water, water and water.

The nutrients will be reused by the tree if they are left on the ground because eventually the woody plant can bribe a few fungi with sugary photosynthate exuded from their roots and these fungi will break down the dead leaves into its usable components again next spring. I believe stems still holding leaves may now suffer from "winterkill" or freezing because they have too much water still in the cells. Dry trees, Schill emphasizes, are the problem. They are holding dry leaves right now so watering will help because the root fungi are still active and needing moisture.

Not just a sad day for gardeners, it is a sad day for new trees planted this year that may not have the reserves in place to fully overwinter. We won't really know until next May but it isn't looking good for any new plantings or lush growing plants right now. I agree with Schill- get out and check your moisture. The snow we've had is not enough for the soil borne organisms - give them a break by watering now.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Snow, Compost & Fall Bulbs

It was a busy weekend of emptying the old compost bin and spreading it; draining our water barrel for the winter; watering in the peonies we moved and finally planting the bulbs and spreading a yard of commercial compost. Yes it happened all at once. I ordered compost and just as it came the weather turned and it started raining. By the time the bulbs (Allium christophii and Allium Mount Everest - see first two photos above) were planted it was starting to snow. Luckily we finished planting bulbs and covering all the beds with compost (see bottom photo of Eagle Lake Black Gold) before it really came down this morning. Now it looks perfect!

The leaves are slow to change colour this year but those that are down were added to our cleaned out bin along with a few kitchen scraps. It is hovering near 2-5 degrees now which is only a shock because it was plus 30 last week. This is all in celcius of course and that means it was very hot and now is so cold. Good thing we are going away for Thanksgiving!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fall Harvest Grass & CBC

I will be bringing some fall grasses with me to CBC radio this friday but meanwhile I have had an image of Foxtail Millet sent to me by John Moore (www.williammoorefarms.ca) Have a look at his beautiful website for more details about the ornamental grasses you can grow here in Alberta such as triticale, millet and old strains of wheat. Very beautiful!