Winter Protection for Your Plants

Are you ensuring winter protection for your plants? Some tender perennials and shrubs need protection from the elements in winter. Plants may need protection from the sun, the wind, the harsh cold, rodents, salt and snow load.

Protecting plants from one element may create a weakness in other areas so it is important to keep all elements in mind when protecting your plants. Once you know what you are protecting your plants from you can ensure you have the correct winter protection for your specific needs.

The sun can cause major damage to plants in winter. In the winter the sun can warm the south side of a plant to the point sap starts to ever so slightly flow and then when the night comes the cold temperatures cause the cells to freeze and burst causing all kinds of problems. Shrubs and trees most susceptible that need protection from the sun are dwarf Alberta spruce, maple trees and emerald cedars.
Protect with: paper tree wrap, burlap wrap or synthetic wrap

The wind in winter has a very drying effect and since plants cannot recover moisture readily in the winter they dry out or desiccate. Ensure all plants are well watered prior to winter and then protect dwarf Alberta spruce, Japanese yews and white pines.
Protect with: burlap fence or snow fences

rose coversHARSH COLD:
All plants will die if they get too cold. The temperature of the root system is most critical in all plants more so than the air temperature. Once the roots of any plant dies then it cannot recover. Moderating soil temperature with composted mulch is vital. No bare ground should be left exposed over winter ever. Plants that experience only top growth die-back can often recover. Winters with many thaw and freezing cycles can be harsh on plant root systems and can kill off even hardy perennials. Marginally hardy and tender perennials need protection from the cold as do magnolias and roses.
Protect with: mulch, Styrofoam domes-rose covers, fluffy snow and snow fences.

Rodents will eat the bark off trees and shrubs over winter. Since all of the plant’s sap runs just under the bark, rodent damage is like severing an artery to a plant. Fruit trees, gooseberries, current bushes, euonymus, and roses definitely need protection from rodents.
Protect with: heavy plastic tree wraps at base of trees and shrubs taking into account height of rabbits when they stand on their hind feet, apply Skoot animal repellant, or use rodent bait. Keep snow tramped down around base of trees and shrubs if possible to discourage rodents.

Salt damage to plants takes the moisture out of the cells and can be lethal to plants. Protect white pines and most evergreens, most woody plants, and grass. If you can use environmentally safe, pet-friendly salt alternatives to de-ice then your plants, pets and environment will thank you. Use kitty litter, sand, grit for traction.
Protect with: burlap fence or screens not wrapping of shrub or synthetic fabric screens. Burlap wrapping of a shrub can hold salt within the burlap fabric creating a salt problem.

Snow and ice buildup are less common but the weight can physically break plants. Plant your shrubs and trees away from roof-line snow slides. Snow coming off of roofs can be very heavy as well as slide quickly and forcefully doing tremendous damage. It can be difficult to protect plants from snow load damage but those most susceptible will need protection. Protect columnar plants, especially Skyrocket or Blue Arrow junipers and evergreens in heavy snow load areas.
Protect with: garden netting, twine to tie together upper branches, wooden “tee-pee” over plant to take weight of snow and ice.

It is important to know what plants need protection from what elements and that the correct protection is utilized. Wrapping a cedar with burlap protects from sun and wind damage but won’t protect it from salt damage. Paper tree wraps protect from sun damage but not from rodents. Ensure the protection required is applied or installed correctly and at the right time. Wrapping shrubs or covering too soon in the fall can create damage and cause other problems. Styrofoam rose covers protect roses from cold but if installed too soon will cause rodent issues by creating an ideal habitat for rodents. It is important to wait until the ground has some frost and the daytime highs are at or near freezing. One cannot go by calendar dates, instead their specific local weather conditions will dictate when to wrap or cover.