During the winter, your garden and landscaping are susceptible to cold temperatures, heavy snow, and even damage from rodents and other animals. Find out how to best protect your plants for winter!
1. Before You Begin
Plants that are adapted to the local area, planted and established a few years ago, located away from the road, and sheltered from the wind have a greater chance of surviving harsh winter conditions even without any additional protection. By carefully choosing and placing your plants to start with, you’ll have a lot less work to do in preparation for winter.
Things to consider:
- The kind of winter protection your plants need depend on:
- your plant hardiness zone or geographical region;
- the hardiness of the plant itself;
- the plant’s exposure to wind;
- the plant’s age; and
- exposure to de-icing salts or snow blown by a snowblower.
- The best time to set up plant protection is around mid-November or when your plants have lost their leaves and the nighttime temperatures fall to around 5°C.
- Leave your winter protection open at the bottom to allow the plants to breathe.
- Take the protection away once the ground thaws. However, it’s best to wait for a cloudy day to do so as this can help prevent sun damage.
- If your shrubs are located near driveways or pedestrian crossings, mark them with posts or stakes.
- Use a protective wrap for plants exposed to blown snow or de-icing salts.
3. Provide Adequate Protection for Young Trees
In the winter, the greatest threat to young trees are small rodents. Because other sources of food are scarce, rodents feed on the young bark and may damage it irreparably.
Protect trees with trunks smaller than 2” in diameter by:
- Wrapping the trunk with a white plastic spiral
- Encircling the trunk with wire mesh or trellis
- Building snow up around the trunk to act as a barrier
4. Protect Shrubs
Shrubs mainly need to be protected from the weight of the snow, which you can do after they’ve lost their leaves by tying them with a rope.
Frost-sensitive shrubs (varies by plant hardiness zone): Provide insulation for less hardy shrubs by using a winter cover or a burlap-covered snow fence filled with dead leaves.
Evergreen shrubs: Some shrubs don’t lose their foliage in the winter (like Rhododendrons and Buxus). Protect them from the cold and wind by using a winter cover or burlap.
5. Keep Conifers Safe
Upright conifers (e.g., spruce, hemlock, fir, pine, and certain cedars) – Protect the roots of young conifers from temperature fluctuations in their first winter by adding a thick layer of mulch around the tree’s base. Drive a few stakes into the ground and surround them with a protective fabric and a snow fence to keep them from making contact with the foliage. In subsequent winters, simply tie the tree up with a rope or a net to keep the branches from bending or breaking under heavy snow or ice.
Globose conifers (e.g., certain spruces and certain thujas/cedars) – Protect globose conifer branches from bending and breaking under heavy snow and ice by pulling up the branches and holding them in place with burlap or protective netting.
Creeping conifers (junipers) – Easygoing creeping conifers just need a good layer of snow. No other precautions required!
6. Prune Perennials
When the foliage has faded after the season’s first frosts, prune back any perennials three years or older about 2” from the ground. Surround them with a layer of dead leaves or mulch. Younger perennials should not be pruned.
7. Care For Roses
A hardy and well-established rose will do just fine with a good layer of snow. However, young roses or cold-sensitive varieties require additional protection. In November, do a maintenance prune before installing an insulating wrap or cone. A thorough prune after the last frost will also encourage good health and beautiful flowers.
8. Manage Grasses
Grasses give your landscaping greater visual appeal even in winter. Wait to prune them in the springtime.
9. Shield Your Lawn with Dead Leaves
Is your yard covered in dead leaves in the fall? You’re in luck. Dead leaves make excellent mulch that will protect your lawn and provide it with nutrients. However, they can also prevent your lawn from getting enough sun and air. If you’re behind on getting your seasonal yard cleanup scheduled for the year, you’re not without options! The best last minute solution is to run them over with your lawn mower and shred ’em!
10. Protect and Fertilize Garden Soil
After the final fall harvest, keep your garden soil uncovered but still protected. Consider using a thick layer of organic mulch (such as dead leaves), natural cedar mulch, or ramial chipped wood (RCW). Mulch can do a great job of protecting the life in the soil and act as a natural fertilizer.