Last year’s severe winter caused a lot of damage to plants. It’s easy to prevent that with a little preparation.
Follow these three easy steps to prepare your garden for winter and minimize damage next spring.
1. Clean Up & Prune
Clean Up: There are two schools of thought on fallen leaves: Rake and bag them to keep garden beds looking good; or mow and mulch them into landscape beds where they’ll nourish and improve the quality of soil.
If you like clean beds for the winter and remove the leaves, be sure to apply a fresh layer of mulch to protect perennials and bulbs through the winter months. Remember, the goal is insulate the ground to prevent the freeze-thaw cycle.
If you mulch leaves back into your beds, be sure to chop them up with a mulching mower so they break down quicker and turn into nutrients. Oak leaves can take up to seven years to decompose if they’re not chopped up.
Prune: While dead wood can be pruned any time of the year, pruning live wood can be done when you’re putting your garden to bed. The golden rule of pruning is: Prune before 4th of July and after Halloween, but not in between. Timing depends on the type of plant. Spring-blooming plants should not be pruned in the fall. For more information, check out our blog on pruning tips.
Many homeowners experienced die back on plants last winter because pruning was done at the wrong time of year. Pruning encourages new growth. Prune in the summer, and that new growth won’t have time to harden off before the cold winter sets in. That could result in severe die back or plant loss.
2. Protect from the Wind
Cold, drying winds are the most damaging to plants. Protect them with a screen of burlap to create a windbreaker.
Drive wood or metal stakes into the ground around the plants to be protected – about two to six inches from the edge of the plants. Attach burlap to the stakes to the full height of the plant. Do not put burlap over the top or wrap the plant directly. Two rows of burlap may be necessary for tall plants.
It’s safe to install this burlap screen around Thanksgiving or during December. Most importantly, get the stakes in the ground before it freezes.
For areas where there is more wind exposure, such as hills, near lakes, or wide open space, add a second layer of burlap for added protection. If in doubt, it’s always better to overprotect.
Don’t let the burlap touch the plants directly. This holds in too much moisture that can create fungus. And keep burlap off the top of the plant. This would allow snow to collect, which could crush the plant.
To protect garden roses, cut the plant back 10 to 12 inches tall so it fit inside a rose cone. Or use a rose collar, which you put around the base of the plant and fill with mulch to protect the crown from freezing. Both of these need to be removed in the spring, around the end of March, before the plant starts actively growing.
Winds cause damage by blowing the moisture out of the stems, evergreen leaves or needles that cannot be replenished because the ground is frozen. Burlap acts as a windbreaker and reduces the drying effects of the wind.
3. Snow & Ice removal
A snow-covered landscape is good to insulate and protect plants from the wind. However, piling snow onto plants when shoveling walkways or driveways can have the opposite effect. Snow becomes very dense and compacted, often turning to ice, which will cause freeze damage and can crush plants. Keep shoveled snow off plants.
Road salt or sodium chloride can be harmful to plants. It seeps into the ground and dries out the roots of plants.
Try a safer solution called Ice Vise with Traction. Ice Vise with Traction comes in a 50 lb bag for $24.99 and it’s safer for your grass and plants while melting the ice!
A few steps now will keep your landscape looking great for years to come.