Creating a hardier garden

Winter scene of garden chair

Even chairs can break up a blast of wind.

Looking out the window and wondering how much of your garden will survive to see May Two-Fer? As Southern Ontario continues to be pummelled by a record-breaking winter, there’s cause for considering the fate of a garden that may have survived last December’s ice storm only to face drying winds, frost heaves, flooding and more. Even reliably hardy plants could use some help. Here are some ideas for upping the hardiness factor in your entire garden come next winter:

Watch for mini wind vortexes     Aside from the random nation-wide polar vortex, your garden can be hit by its own tiny vortex created by the walls, fences and tall trees that surround it. Even gardens that seem well protected on all sides can actually trap wind within its enclosed space. If you see that happening now, think about making changes come spring. Filtering wind will serve your purpose better than trying to block it. If you’ve got the room and the means, plant trees with light (not dense) heads like silver birches. If your garden is essentially shaped like a dish–high fences all around, plantings close to the fences, big centre area of lawn–try breaking up the middle area with wind buffering ornamental bushes, a small tree or two, even a garden arch or gazebo.

Look to the high ground     Use elevation to your advantage, even on a small scale. Cold air is heavier than warm air and will sink to the lowest level in your garden. If you’ve got a plant you think is not-so-hardy, don’t plant it in the lowest part of your garden. Water will collect in dips and gullies, too, and wet, heavier soil is much more susceptible to frost heave. If you’ve got the luxury of starting a new bed from scratch, make its surface rounded with the middle of the bed higher than all surrounding edges.

Think giant mulch     Next fall, I’m going to take a cue from my mother-in-law in England. She saves the evergreen tree branches she’s trimmed and covers exposed flower beds with them. You still need to use regular mulch–the kind you buy at the garden nursery or make with collected leaves. But laying tree branches on top will do a much better job of preventing frost heave as well as simply protecting plants from drying winds. They’ll also help by collecting snow which adds additional insulation.

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