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Never been much of a gardener, so 10 years ago I bought a house with a mostly asphalt backyard. So, different season of life now, my wife and I are starting a small garden of mostly food bearing plants.

We're located in Calgary, Canada where we have long winters with lots of Chinooks (warm wind that will randomly bring the temperature up to 10-20 C and melt everything).

Our raspberries are planted below ground and are thriving. This year we added some herbs (thyme, sage, etc...) and strawberries. However, as we're limited in space, these are planted in the above ground planter box. The guy who sold us the herbs suggested that freezing over the winter for many of the perennials would be fine, but our Chinooks could likely kill the plants if they were planted above ground. Any truth to this? How can I ensure that my plants survive our strange winter? Can I just shovel lots of snow onto it and hope the planter box never gets the chance to thaw?

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I would first suggest (unless you find local input beyond the seller that says certainly not) just seeing what happens, and replanting if what happens is bad. If the plants don't have massive sentimental or economic value, you may learn something that saves you a bunch of work in future years; or you buy new plants next year, and KNOW that you need to take other steps.

My next suggestion would be to bury the planter (top and sides) under a mound of straw for the winter, rendering it closer to being "in ground" by means of insulation from the straw. You can use the straw for mulch or composting in the spring/summer. If you also wanted to use it as your snowpile, that would help. The straw provides a buffer even if all the snow melts.

  • Despite the fact that we're just entering summer, and it being hard to know what will work, this seems like the best course of action. Marking this as the answer for now. – talon8 Jun 26 '15 at 4:53
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Have you considered converting your planter into a green house? You could go the DIY route with some used French doors or windows, and try to keep the temperature the same through out the year.

Alternately, nowadays you are able to buy walk-in green-houses for low prices.

The Chinooks do sound really strange, but could lead to some exciting experiments. Be prepared for at least some plants to die.

You should check around and find out information about gardening clubs in Calgary. I am sure you could gain from others' experience and mix in your own trial and error.

The other thing to be aware is that plants learn to adjust. My mom has always grown Hibiscus in India, which live year around in the temperate climate where we live. So, in Zone 9B, I planted two bushes, and the strangest thing happens - each winter they die off - we barely ever get below the 25F range. The first winter, I thought the plant had died, was sad, but too lazy to replant something and the Hibiscus came back in Spring. So be sure to give the plants ample time over winter.

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    Interesting thought. I will keep it in mind for a future project. At this time, it wouldn't work for what we currently have. It isn't cost effective and would look a little funny. – talon8 Jun 24 '15 at 22:20
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    I will ask locally as well, but thought I'd check here first as well, it's closer. The chinooks can yield up to a 40 c temperature jump in a single day. I suspect that makes it difficult for plants to adapt. – talon8 Jun 24 '15 at 22:23
  • Yes 40C seems quite a bit of a difference. Plants would be in shock with that kind of variation. – Srihari Yamanoor Jun 27 '15 at 14:14
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I, too, would have suggested a green house. But if that doesn't work for your landscape, I'd suggest looking into a very, very inexpensive solution...row cloth. This stuff is white, allows light and rain to enter but wind will blow right over the top. It also raises the ambient temperature around the plants by 10 to 20 degrees. Do any of your neighbors grow edibles? I live in an extremely inhospitable place for edibles as well as most ornamental plants. We are using a tunnel or hoop greenhouse covered with plastic (very easy to build and very inexpensive) until we can afford a climate controlled, insulated and heated greenhouse. I wouldn't be without row cloth to protect my plants at any time of the year. Also great to keep out cabbage family flies/moths from laying eggs and decimating my cabbage family plants.

This stuff will definitely protect plants from high winds!!

  • At 10 to 20 degrees, the plants would still be 10 to 20 degrees C bellow freezing. The chinooks would still thaw it I think. I think the challenge would be to keep it frozen during the chinooks? – talon8 Jun 25 '15 at 2:00
  • The row cloth will stabilize the temperatures. Chinooks are warm winds I gather...the row cloth sort of replaces a snow cover. Snow is great for insulating plants and soil. Otherwise, row cloth or even NEWSPAPER. Newspaper is superior for keeping things cold or protecting plants from the cold. It is incredible insulation. Especially great if you are moving during winter and don't have an insulated trailer. Row cloth allows light and thus heat energy under its canopy, doesn't get too hot to thaw and will keep roots from freezing...hopefully. – stormy Jun 26 '15 at 19:24
  • Our temperatures here can go down to -40c (or -40f). No matter what I do, short of a heated greenhouse, the soil will be rock solid ice. It could be weeks or months before temp goes above freezing. The chinook can come at any time and melt everything. I will look into row cloth though. Newspaper may be a good solution. – talon8 Jun 26 '15 at 21:57
  • Plants in the garden soil should be fine if they've been there and are appropriate for your zone. How long have you been gardening in this location? I live in a very similar zone... – stormy Jun 26 '15 at 21:59
  • A raised planter changes things. How long have you been using this raised planter? I'd mulch the soil with straw/bark/newspaper and using the rowcloth over all...any perennial should make it! Even add Christmas tree lights on top of the mulch and under the row cloth. You might have to accept you'll have to start new plants every year if these suggestions do not work. But they should!! A heated greenhouse makes sense...living in such a harsh zone you DESERVE to garden in a greenhouse! That's what I have promised meself!! Grin!! – stormy Jun 26 '15 at 22:07

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