Winter-Proofing the Great Outdoors

We had our first storm this week. No, no snow yet, but we did have a fairly severe windstorm. Wind is almost worse than snow and cold temps because you really have to make sure things are battened down tight so they don’t get destroyed and potentially hurt anyone.

Patio Furniture – It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be dining al fresco during the winter months so if you have indoor storage space where you can stow your furniture, such as a shed, garage or basement, that’s ideal. If you have to leave it out over the winter, make sure it’s secure – we have our bistro set chained to the deck railing. Our deck is also fairly sheltered, so high winds and snow accumulation won’t be that much of an issue. If you have a cover for your set, that will certainly improve it’s lifespan from winter wear and tear.

Grills – How you’ll keep your grill depends on whether or not you’ll want to use it during cold weather. If you don’t intend to use it, just put it away along with your patio furniture after you empty it of ash and coals and clean it out. We like to grill on the milder days in the winter, so we’ll leave our grill out. It’s good to have it in a sheltered location and chained down if necessary. And since grills have lots of pieces, it’s imperative to have a cover on it. That will prevent anything from blowing away and minimize the chances that the grill will become damaged or weather-worn.

Window Boxes – If you’re like me, you’ll want to leave your window boxes and some of your planters out during the winter months. For window boxes, make sure they are securely attached to your home or deck railing. You’ll also want to make sure that you have something sturdy and hardy planted in them (such as ornamental kale). Or, if you go in for evergreen boughs and such, make sure they’re laid in well so they don’t blow away – you can use wire hooks to secure the greens horizontally into the planter. What ever you decide, as long as you’re leaving them up, you’ll need to have something covering your potting soil so it doesn’t all blow off in a strong wind.

Planters and Pots – Some planters you’ll want to bring inside. I always bring in my herb pots, so I have to get some plastic pot coasters for drainage so I can water them indoors without a giant mess. You’ll want to bring in or put away any pottery or terra cotta planters you’re using as ice can damage them fairly easily – the freeze and thaw of water that can get inside can cause the pot to crack. For planters you’re leaving outside, make sure they’re winter proofed. I have a wooden free-standing window box planter, with an earth box nested inside. I’ve got dwarf spruce and creeping juniper planted in it, so I’ll leave it outdoors. However, to protect both the planter and help out the plants, I’m going to insulate the space between the earth box and wood planter box with bubble wrap from packages that are sent into my office – I do love to reuse useless items! In the same vein, you’ll want to think of any plants that need some protection – young fruit trees, roses and some shrubs may need to be wrapped in burlap to protect them from windburn and below zero temperatures.

Garden Tchotchkes – Really, I just like to find a way to use the word ‘tchotchke’ from time to time. But you know the kind of things I mean – wind chimes, lanterns, patio cushions, lawn gnomes. For the most part these types of items should be taken down and put away indoors during the window. If nothing else, getting it out of the elements will prolong it’s useful life. We have a string of white lanterns that we’ll likely take down after Halloween, though in all honesty, we should’ve taken them down prior to the windstorm this week. It was ten o’clock at night when we realized how nasty it was going to get though, and taking down lanterns didn’t seem appealing at that late hour. But we don’t want to tempt fate more than once per season, so we’ll take them down this weekend when we take down our string our of ghost lights that we also have on the back deck – and you should take your lanterns and lights down too! The exception here is outdoor-rated holiday lights – just make you’ve got them safely secured to your deck or whatever. We just staple ours onto the wood railing using hardware staples (being super careful to staple around the wires, not through them – electrocution is bad) but they also sell fancy plastic or metal clips that you can permanently affix to your dwelling, and then string the lights to those. But if you’re careful, really the staples work just fine.

And while you’re at it, you’ll want to have a can of salt or sand by the back and front doors, as well as a shovel. With a little foresight and planning, your outdoor space and garden will do just fine through the winter months.

Attack of the Squirrels!

Up until very recently, my only experience with garden pests has been one nasty outbreak of spider mites on a trio of sweet pepper plants and the occasional interaction with fruit flies. I’d read about the woes of outdoor gardeners, lamenting about losing half their crop to deer or squirrels, aphids and other four-legged marauders and creepy crawlies. But I didn’t really get it; in fact, I often wondered what all the fuss was about. I mean, I live in a giant city. We certainly don’t have deer. And how much damage can one little squirrel do?

A lot, evidently! We’ve been in our new apartment for just over a month now, and the plants just love being outdoors. The bay tree and rosemary were the only permanent plants to made the transition from the old apartment and being outdoors has just made them flourish. I was worried about them since they hadn’t been “hardened” to outdoor living, but you’d never know it by looking at them. They become even more lush, more green and more robust. And more tasty apparently.

I thought I was losing my mind when I noticed bite marks on the bay leaves. But then I knew it was a squirrel when it started digging little holes in the dirt and would sit on the power lines chirping at us whenever we were outside, as though we were invading it’s territory. But that was okay; it was just a few nibbles, and just a few holes in the dirt.

But then The Gourd Incident occurred. Sunday afternoon after the family came by to visit Gethsemane Garden Center, we spent a few hours getting everything planted. We filled a window box on the deck railing and tucked in a few gourds. After the family departed for the day, we spent some time sitting at the bistro table and enjoying our handiwork. Then we went inside for the evening to make dinner. After we had dinner in the oven (honey-chardonnay turkey drumsticks with bread stuffing and mashed potatoes), husband looked out the bedroom window and noticed something wrong. There was dirt all over the railing and one of the gourds was out of it’s spot in the window box, sitting on the rail. So we went outside and what did we discover? Not two hours after getting everything planted, that little bugger of a squirrel had a little snack of one of the gourds! It either didn’t care for lettuce, beets and bok choi, or else it got full on half the gourd it decided to taste. Husband sprinkled cayenne pepper in the planter, while letting out a few choice curses, so hopefully that’s the end of the squirrel buffet.

But now I’m scheming on the scheming squirrels. They are not cuddly, cute little creatures at all! I will no longer be defending their honor amongst the vermin-hating crowd. Squirrels are now Garden Enemy Number One. If they’re enthusiastic about bay leaves and gourds, they’re going to go nuts about my spring planting. I intend to be ready. I’m dreaming of full net-cages, chicken wire surrounds and repellent sprays. I’ve got big plans for fruits and veggies next season and my goal is to best the squirrels so I can actually eat what I plant, so I’m taking suggestions and advice!

The Fall Garden

It’s never to late to plant. This weekend the family came out for our semi-annual trip to Gethsemane Garden Center, and we loaded up with things for our little deck. And we chose a perfect weekend for it – not only was the weather warm and sunny, but Gethsemane was highly motivated to move the last of this season’s glazed pottery pots and planters.

We got some serious deals for two-thirds off the original price. We came home with two large square green-glazed planters that are perfect for the bay tree and rosemary that needed to be potted up. We also got a wire window box that Jeremy’s grandpa purchased for us. And to round out the pots on the deck, we were also given a wood planter with a shelf underneath handmade by grandpa – it’s got lovely finials on the corners and heart cutouts in the box, and the workmanship is just gorgeous.

We also loaded up on plants. We picked out a bamboo plant for the bedroom (and it ended up being the only plant we were allowed to pay for ourselves – Jeremy’s mom generously picking up the tab for the rest) which we potted into the round glazed pot that the bay tree used to live in. For the wooden planter, we got two creeping junipers and two dwarf blue spruces. We tucked the earth box right into the planter and put the junipers on either side of the spruces, with a mini pumpkin tucked in front. When winter sets in, we’re going to add some red dogwood branches and white lights.

And we went pretty crazy with the window box – there are two small burgundy mums, about ten lettuces, two baby bok chois, and three beets. We also tucked in some gourds. It’s looking full and beautiful. I also put my handkerchief ghosts in along the front, so it’s very autumnal. I’m looking forward to a few fall salads, if the blasted squirrels don’t eat them all – but that’s another story (or rather, another post). We also overzealously got two small yellow mums which we couldn’t fit in, so we planted one in a red tin bucket that I had laying around, and the other we tucked into a white planter painted with garden flowers that belonged to Jeremy’s late grandmother. We put both of those and some more mini pumpkins on the etagere. And since we bought so many lettuces, we received two chive plants for free – they’re a little worse for wear, but I plan to nurse them back to robustness in the kitchen window (partly because the neighbor cat Maybe discovered them instantly and apparently thinks chives are delicious). We planted them in the round green glazed pot that the rosemary was previously living in.

So, we’ve the full window box on the deck rail in front of the bistro set and underneath the white lantern and ghost lights. Opposite it along the brick wall of the building is the etagere and next to that in front of our bedroom window is the planter box with the evergreens. The green pots with the rosemary and bay tree are flanking the planter box, but we’ll have to bring them in before long for the season – I think they’ll just fit in the kitchen windowsill. On the other side of the etagere under the bathroom window are the two metal cans that store the potting soil and miscellaneous garden supplies. And that’s the whole deck, in a nutshell (I know, I really need to post some pictures, and I will – we ran out of daylight today to take any that would be any good).

I’m hoping the mums and things last for another month or so, but when those go we’ll lay in some evergreen boughs and holly branches and maybe some red dogwood branches. And of course I’d like to do an evergreen garland around the decking as well, but I might be getting ahead of myself a bit. At any rate, we’ve got some nice plantings out for autumn – no need to wait for spring to put in a little greenery!