Archives > November 2018

3 Main Reasons Why Perennials Die Over the Winter

Posted by Wallish on Nov 20 2018

It’s frustrating. Perennials die over the winter and they’re really not supposed to, right? Perennials are a group of flowers that typically come back year after year. Perennials have a large range of life expectancies – not all perennials live forever. Some are very short lived, more properly call biennials, others are short lived, around 4 – 8 years, and others do live almost forever. There are some perennials, like Gas Plants (Dictamnus) and Peonies that last for 70 years.

So, let’s say your perennial was only a couple of years old; or maybe you just planted it the previous spring. Then why would it not come back after the winter snows have melted? We run into this question a LOT.

Here are three major reasons why perennials kick the bucket:

  1. They aren’t the Right Horticultural Zone
    • The zone for our Edmonton area is zone 3 – 4a and we can get away with quite a few zone 4 perennials. For most people who live in rural areas, zone 3 is the highest they can go. Because of the warming influence of cities, zone 4 perennials tend to better in town. Sometimes perennials surprise us when we try to stretch the zone, but other times they don’t. You can look at it as better to have loved & lost than to have never loved at all.
    • Remember to read labels so you have the right zone and always ask questions if you are unsure of the cold tolerance of perennials you would like to purchase.
  2. They got Too Dry
    • Perennials often die because they have gotten stressed from being too dry in the fall. When this happens, they go into winter compromised and under the additional stress of winter, they die. During the summer we take excellent care of our gardens but in the autumn we tend to get a little lax. We don’t always think to water our perennials in the fall because it is cooler and we think that they don’t need much water. In reality, they don’t need as much as in the summer but they definitely need to be watered regularly in autumn. In the fall, plants are in the a storage phase and are building up their resources for the winter months, so augment them up by watering them well – like every week or so until it gets really cold. You don’t want them too wet or too dry – kinda just like Goldilocks & her porridge – just evenly moist. No need to fertilize, perennials are not heavy feeders and the extra fertilizer is unnecessary.
  3. They got Too cold
    • There are a couple of things that typically wear down perennials during the winter months. Getting too cold is one of them. If there is not enough snow coverage when it is extremely cold (-10 and colder), the roots can get colder than they can tolerate, despite their zone rating. This is why snow cover is essential. Snow, with its plentiful air spaces serves as a great insulator for perennials. Any time that you are shovelling a side walk or clearing snow, be sure to throw extra snow over your plants. Check out our blog on Why Snow is Good
    • Another thing that kills perennials is the freeze thaw cycle that often happens sometime in January or February in our area. The rising and falling temperatures do a number on perennials because they can’t decide to grow or not. If the snow begins to melt off of your perennials, throw some snow on them from another part of your garden or yard. This will keep your perennial in its winter sleeping mode longer.
    • For either of the above, applying a layer of protective mulch of 4-6” will go a long way to shield it from the cold or the freeze-thaw yoyo cycle and improve its chances of survival. Apply mulch in the late fall as temperatures regularly fall below freezing and it looks like the snow will begin to fly. Any kind of organic mulch will do here – try cedar mulch, leaf mulch, or mixed mulches. All of these have a good insulation factor. See The Magic of Mulch

If you have any questions about mulch, snow cover, hardy perennials, or overwintering techniques, please feel free to send us a quick email or give us a call at the greenhouse at 780-467-3091 – we would be happy to discuss any of the above with you.


“In Flanders Fields the Poppies Blow” – Who is this Poppy?

Posted by Wallish on Nov 6 2018

The World’s Most Famous WAR MEMORIAL POEM
By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

Composed at the battlefront on May 3, 1915
during the second battle of Ypres, Belgium

The timing of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s poem the day after he buried his good friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer on May 2, 1915 gives us a clue that the red poppies he saw blooming in the agricultural region of Flanders Field in Belgium were spring bloomers. Have you ever wondered what kind of poppy it is that is he referenced? And why was it that the fields had so many in colour?

The poppies that John saw are called Papaver rhoeas. These poppies are an annual plant that can be found over much of Europe. In Europe they are known as the ‘common poppy’, ‘field poppy’, or ‘corn poppy’. They earned the name ‘corn poppy’ because their seeds would get mixed in amongst the corn seeds and grew alongside the corn as it matured.

The reason the fields of this battleground were so full of colour is because the soil had been disturbed in this area of Belguim with the building of the trenches in World War I, as well as with the digging of so many soldier graves. The seeds of this particular poppy could lay dormant for up to 80 years and would blossom when the soil was disturbed. The shifting of soil in combination with a great deal of rain that particular spring encouraged the growth of these poppies. In this area of Europe, Papaver rhoeas typically blooms in late spring and early summer.

The Papaver rhoeas grows best in full sun and to a height of 12-24” tall. It’s an easy to grow, zone 4-8 plant plant that prefers well drained soil. They resow freely, are very prolific reproducers that work well in borders and cottage garden beds. The seeds are said to have a nutty flavour and are used in poppy seed cake. The flowers have been used in the past to make dye. The good news is that deer don’t like them due to their terrible flavour.

These seeds can be found easily on line and would probably be fun to grow.

A huge thank you goes to the many people that gave their lives and to those who have grieved the loss of members of their family for the privileges we share as citizens of this good country we call Canada. And we are grateful to those who continue to faithfully serve our nation now.