Essential Winter Prep for Your Trees & Shrubs

Published by Bucks Country Gardens in Lawn & GardenPlants

Polar plunge. Arctic invasion. Call it what you want but the cold weather of this past weekend serves as a real reminder of what’s ultimately to come this winter. Last winter was one of the coldest this area has experienced in many, many years. As spring emerged, most trees and shrubs survived intact, but some did not. Each fall, there are six essential steps we can take to prepare our landscape plants to be ready to battle whatever Old Man Winter dishes out.

1.  Water, Water, Water

It’s hard to not enjoy what could seem like endless sunny days in fall. But it’s not until leaves start to wilt and soil looks dry do we realize that we may not have had significant rainfall for quite some time. Water is just as important for newly planted and existing trees and shrubs in the fall as it is in the spring and summer. Apply supplementary irrigation on woody shrubs and trees until their leaves fall. Since evergreens transpire large mounts of water through their foliage all winter, especially on sunny, windy dry days, they need to be watered regularly until the ground freezes. Read more about proper watering practices in our blog Prepare for a Stress-free Winter…for your Plants!

2.  Clean Up

Cleaning up the garden at the end of the season creates a tidy and neat appearance. It also keeps critters and unwanted rodents at bay, since there’s less material and debris to make a home with. Removing debris, dead plants and fallen leaves also reduces the likelihood of harboring damaging insects or causing diseases to existing trees, shrubs and perennials. Additionally, removing heavy accumulations of fallen leaves from atop low growing evergreens and groundcover will alleviate weight on delicate branches and will also allow sunlight to reach the within the plants.

3.  Mulch

Mulch keeps plant roots and soil cool and helps retain moisture in the spring and summer months. In the winter, mulch is valuable for moderating temperature extremes. A good covering helps to maintain constant cool temperatures, shielding the roots from the warmth of a bright January day and the bitter cold of a deep freeze February night. Apply about 2”–3” of mulch to trees and shrubs (or top off existing mulch with a coating) when soil temps drop below 40˚ F. Or as an alternative, use Christmas greens, hay bale, wreaths or evergreen branches leftover from the holidays to place throughout the garden to cover the ground. Can be used intact or shredded. Simply remove 2”–3” of mulch around St. Patrick’s Day in March.

4.  Protect Against Deer

Deer are creatures of habit and will browse in familiar territories. If they sampled from the buffet of plants in your garden this past summer, chances are they will be back again for more. Protect your plants and protect yourself with a deer repellant such as Deer Scram. This granular deterrent is applied around the perimeter of your trees and shrubs or around your property as a whole. This keeps the deer from damaging or devouring your garden. It also reduces the likelihood they will introduce deer ticks, carriers of Lyme Disease, into your botanical oasis. There are also a number of repellants available that deter small animals, mice and other garden pests. Visit the garden center for more specific needs.

5.  Protect Against Wind and Sun Damage

When the weather forecasters speak of wind chills, we put on thermal shirts and pants, dig out Aunt Edith’s handmade knitted scarf and debate about wearing the hat with the face mask (yeah, it’s not for everyone…). If only our trees and shrubs could do the same. They need protection against the harsh winter elements and it’s our job to provide it so they can reward our efforts with gorgeous blooms in spring. Bonide Wilt Stop is a ready-to-use spray which is applied to trees and shrubs. When sprayed, it coats the leaves in a soft, flexible film made from natural, non-toxic pinene, the resin from pine trees. It helps to prevent wind burn, sunscald, winter kill and salt damage. The key to the success of winter plant protection is to apply Wilt Stop at least two times, preferably three, over the course of the winter months. Apply now, usually the week prior to Thanksgiving, before daytime temperatures consistently go below 40˚ F. It is very important to apply Wilt Stop again in January on a warm day (above 40˚ F). And lastly, make every effort to apply a third time–on a warm day in February. The second and third application of Wilt Stop allows it to be most effective in protecting your plants. Another alternative to providing protection from winter scald is to wrap tender trees with burlap. For more information specific to your type or size of tree, stop by the garden center to speak to any one of our knowledgeable nursery staff.

6.  Snow

To take a guess, I’d imagine last winter was a good learning lesson for many when it comes to snow and the damage it can cause to our landscape. As beautifully peaceful, serene and quiet a blanket of newly fallen snow can be, if you listen closely enough you just might be able to hear your trees and shrubs calling for help. Heavy accumulations of snow can weigh down delicate or soft wood branches to the point of causing danger to the plant and even your home or family. Be mindful of the snowfall and brush off branches when safe to do so. When removing snow from walkways, driveways, etc, designate snow storage areas on your property. Prior to the ground freezing, use brightly colored stakes to define areas for snow storage. Keep plow blades and shovels away from tree trunks and landscape plants. Nicks and cuts into the wood of plants can cause serious damage in the future. Also, create a path for runoff of de-icing salt so that salt water does not settle in low areas around plants. Better yet, take out the worry by using ice melt instead. Read more about ice melt in our blog Rock Salt vs Ice Melt? And the Winner is…

Whether you take one or all of the steps listed here, everything you do to prepare your plants for the upcoming harsh realities of winter weather are crucial for the survival of your landscape tree and shrubs. If you had your plants professionally planted or if you did it yourself, time and money has been invested into to your landscape and your investment needs protection. Remember how fantastic your garden looked this past summer? By doing the less-than-glamorous work now, you will be rewarded with another gorgeous garden next year.

David Jones | Horticulturist, Arborist & Customer Service

Adriene Vesci | Graphic Designer & Advertising Coordinator