Winter can be a season of extremes, but there are a few things that you can do to prepare and protect your shrubs and trees, such as wrapping a shrub in burlap. Learn more.
How to Protect Shrubs and Trees in Winter
The weight of snow and ice can be crushing, breaking branches and even knocking some top heavy trees over. Trees with multiple leaders, clump formers, and upright evergreens are often victims. Try wrapping small trees or evergreens with burlap or other soft, breathable material (not solid plastic) to help them shed snow and ice. For larger trees, call in an arborist to shape the tree properly or cable branches in danger of being broken.
Be sure to use a breathable fabric to wrap your plants otherwise they’ll cook on a sunny day!
Plan ahead and protect plant roots by making sure they have been well watered all season long. Moist soil is a better insulator of roots than dry soil, holding heat longer and cooling down slowly. Soil temps in winter are actually higher than the air temperature.
Lack of snow can actually be as much of a problem as too much. Snow is a great insulating blanket that protects roots. If snow is lacking, add some pine boughs around shallow-rooted plants to keep them from heaving. When used to cover low evergreens they can trap snow and prevent them from drying out. A great use for your old xmas tree!
Mulch is also a great insulator. Four to six inches of bark mulch, straw, or shredded leaves - especially when placed around newly planted trees or shrubs - keeps soil temperatures constant and prevents plants from heaving out of the ground due to cycles of freezing and thawing. Be sure to keep mulch 6 inches away from the trunk to discourage mice from nesting there and dining on the bark.
Sunscald can damage the bark on young trees and those with thin bark such as cherries, crabapples, plums, and maple trees to name a few. It is caused by direct sunlight heating the bark on a clear day to a point where the tissues near the surface wake up and become active. When the sun goes down and temperatures drop, the bark cools off so rapidly the tissue is killed, leaving dark sunken areas behind. To prevent this, wrap the trunks with a light-colored tree wrap tape or plastic tree guards. Just be sure to remove them in the spring to keep bugs from setting up a home behind them. When we first planted our mini-orchard we were advised to paint the trunks on the new trees with thinned down white latex paint to reflect the winter sun. It worked like a charm!
Desiccation occurs in evergreens when sunny days or wind cause the plants to transpire, losing moisture that they can’t replace when the ground is frozen. Along with making sure the plants were well watered all season long, you can lessen the impact of sun and wind by wrapping smaller evergreen shrubs with burlap. For larger plants try making a temporary screen from burlap to deflect the wind and block the sun. Anti-desiccant sprays have not proven to be very effective.
Deer, rabbits, and rodents damage or kill trees by eating bark, twigs, and branches. Discouraging rabbits and rodents from nesting near your trees and shrubs can be difficult. Be sure to keep vegetation short around the base of trees and remove brush piles where critters could hide. Wrap tree trunks with hardware cloth to keep them from girdling the trees. Deer require 8 foot tall fencing to keep them away from your precious plants. Every winter I struggle with a herd of deer who come to my yard when the snow cover is too deep for them to forage elsewhere. Any delicious plants, like the rhododendrons, that are not inside the fenced area are fair game! You can try repellents, anything that makes the plants smell or taste bad, but if they are hungry enough they will eat whatever they can find.