Redoing a garden. In winter. In Switzerland.
December 8, 2013 10:54 AM   Subscribe

We moved to Zurich earlier this year. Our apartment has a couple of balconies, both with raised gardens around the edges. When we moved in, they had been untouched for months and are full of scrubby things and stumps. I want to spend winter (while the ground isn't frozen) cleaning them out for spring, as well as preparing the rest of the garden for potentially heavy snow.

There are a few herbs. I don't know the first thing about preparing a garden for "real" winter, being from mild New Zealand. I have rosemary, lavender, thyme, a fairly delicate flowering creeper and a nice orange broom that I want to keep. Do they need to be covered somehow? What's the best way?

Also, to remove stumps from a raised garden, what's a good approach? The gardens are about 40-50cm front to back, and maybe 2m long and 1m deep (although the soil may not go right down). I have room to put down a tarp to contain the soil if need be, and I live right next door to a garden centre, but I don't have an easy way to dispose of garden rubbish. The stumps are maybe 10cm across on average, nothing too huge, but the roots will probably spread the length of the gardens. I can take photos in daylight (it's 8pm now) if that will help.
posted by tracicle to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hello and welcome to Zürich.

I can't answer all your questions, but I have some comments:

1. Isn't your garden frozen already? It is regularly below freezing at night here.

2. To get rid of your garden waste: Are you in the city? You can order a 'green' trashcan for organic waste. You can put anything organic in the can (garden waste, food, etc...). It is fermented to make biogas. If you aren't in the city, the city hall or office where you register will tell you where and how to get rid of your garden waste. Each community handles it differently. I love my organic waste bin!

3. To choose what to cut back, anything that is sprouting and growing in a way that you don't want. I think this should all be cut back before spring so that the plant focuses the growth energy on what you do want. I am not sure.

4. I don't know what you need to cover and what not, but this is a pretty common thing. Go down to the garden center and ask them. There is a 75% chance they will speak English. The manager of the Garden Center in Küssnacht Goldbach is American.

5. I don't know how to get your stumps out, but I am pretty sure it is too cold to take them out now. It certainly would be at our house.

6. My wife says that your rosemary, lavender and thyme will keep over the winter with no special care.
posted by jazh at 11:26 AM on December 8, 2013

Best answer: For my small amount of garden rubbish, I was a bad Zurich resident and just threw it into Zürisäcke, and put it out with the rest of the trash. There is a special collection for bio-waste, but I never figured out how it worked for an apartment building. If you're confident enough, I'd ask your neighbors or look for a nearby bio-abfall bin, but you can probably just get away with cutting things to a small size and putting them in the regular trash bags. If you live right next door to the garden centre, I bet they're the best source of info!

We had one mild winter (only a few days below zero) and one cold winter (a week of -10 or lower, when our heat was also malfunctioning). I didn't have much on my small balcony, but I had a small potted Campanula that managed to revive itself after a winter of having everything above ground be entirely dead, and no protection from the elements to speak of. If you actually live in central Zurich, I don't think it usually gets much heavy snow. Further up the lake and hills can get more, though.

Here's a website on how to deal with herbs in winter: If it's too cold, it looks like the rosemary might not survive out there
posted by that girl at 11:26 AM on December 8, 2013

Well, Jazh seems better informed on the bio-waste and gardening in Zurich than I do, so take his recommendations!
posted by that girl at 11:28 AM on December 8, 2013

I want to add that if you put your garden trash into the regular trash bags called 'Zürisack' you could be spending a lot more money than necessary. The Zürisack cost 1.75 ChF / bag, whereas the organic bin is a one time yearly fee - we share ours with our neighbors. Our portion is about 70 ChF / year.

The Zürisacks are priced to motivate you to recycle or otherwise 'properly' dispose of your waste.
posted by jazh at 11:35 AM on December 8, 2013

Response by poster: Yeah, I throw my green waste into Zürisackli also. We live in a complex that collects our rubbish but has no option for green waste, and the complex is weird in that it doesn't do roadside collection because we don't technically have a road (weird but true!). The bio waste part isn't a big concern, though -- I can ask the Hauswart very nicely if I can dump it in their containers if I see them out doing garden work. I was thinking more whether anyone could foresee a case where I'd have more rubbish than I would expect.

The soil here isn't frozen, yet. I want to try to do the work this week if I can. We're in Brunau, and it's been snowy but it's thawed some. I should have done it a month ago, I know!

That's good to know about the herbs, jazh, thanks! I can speak reasonable Hochdeutsch so it would make sense to check with the store assistants.
posted by tracicle at 11:35 AM on December 8, 2013

Response by poster: We also have a lot of older neighbours who do very cheekily dump their garden waste on the ground beside the rubbish-bag chutes, which drives me nuts (I'm not Swiss but I'm sure I'll be a good Swiss person in time...).
posted by tracicle at 11:36 AM on December 8, 2013

Best answer: I can add a word of caution to prevent some damage you may not have considered: do not work the soil this late in the season. It can be as devastating as if you worked it too early in the spring. Otherwise, you may spend a couple of growing seasons with additives to get back to something that does not look like vacuum cleaner bag dust. Pull the garbagey crap out and let things rest until spring and the soil dries out (it's time to get to work when soil does not stay in a ball when you clench it in your fist).
posted by Lornalulu at 12:39 PM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

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