Do you feel that shiver running down your spine? Winter is here, and it’s high time to protect your trees and shrubs – if you haven’t done so already!
The fluctuating temperatures, drying winds, shortage of water and other factors all make winter stressful for trees and shrubs, especially if they’re not native to the climate they’re planted in. So why not lend these plants a hand? A few preventive measures are all it takes to help them weather the storm.
One of the easiest ways to protect trees and shrubs is to provide good drainage. Wet, poorly drained soil contracts and expands more during winter’s freezing and thawing cycles, sometimes heaving roots out of the soil. But well-drained soil keeps roots in place and protects them from the elements.
You can give your trees and shrubs a healthy start by improving the soil when you plant them. To encourage better drainage, mix sand and compost into the soil you remove from the planting hole. Then use the improved soil to fill in the rest of the hole.
During winter, the drying winds and lack of running water can create drought-like conditions. Broadleaf evergreens, such as hollies and azaleas, are especially susceptible to dehydration since they lose moisture through the pores in the undersides of their leaves. And once the ground freezes, the roots can’t absorb any more water to replace that moisture.
If the tree or shrub hasn’t stored enough water to last through winter, it may dry out so much that it drops its leaves or even dies. To prevent this from happening, keep watering your trees and shrubs right up until the ground freezes. That way, they can absorb enough water to last all winter.
To give your evergreens even more protection, you can spray them with an antidessicant. This waxy coating covers the pores on the leaves, sealing moisture in. One application in late fall and another in early February should be enough to protect your plants from a winter’s worth of drying winds.
Not surprisingly, nature has its own way of protecting trees and shrubs. If you walk through any wooded area at this time of year, you’ll notice that leaves, snow, fallen branches and other rubble have collected around the bases of trees and shrubs to form a natural mulch. This protective covering not only keeps the ground at a constant temperature and prevents the roots from heaving through the soil, but it also keeps moisture from evaporating from the soil. In addition, the biodegradable materials in the mulch eventually break down to enrich the soil around the plant.
To create your own mulch, cover the bases of your trees and shrubs with a layer of dry leaves about three or four inches deep. You may need to cover the mulch with fallen branches or chicken wire to keep it from blowing away. Try to leave a few inches between the mulch and the trunk so burrowing rodents won’t be tempted to chew on the tree bark.
Wrapping the trunks of your trees and shrubs can also prevent winter damage. Young, soft-barked trees are susceptible to frost damage, and any tree can fall prey to the destructive nibbling of deer, rabbits and other hungry animals.
You can protect the bark from cracking by wrapping the trunk with burlap strips. Wind them diagonally around the trunk, and secure the strips with twine. To prevent animal damage, surround the trunk with a cylinder of chicken wire about two feet above the average snowline.
Snow and Wind
You can protect trees from snow and wind damage simply by planting them in sheltered areas. If that’s not possible, create a temporary shelter with a burlap snow fence, which will block some snow and wind but let the sunshine in.
Build your fence along the north side of a tree or shrub. Before the ground freezes, plunge a couple of wooden stakes into the soil, and stretch a length of burlap between the stakes. Pull it taut, and staple it securely to the stakes.
Throughout the winter, keep your trees and shrubs clear of snow. Knock the snow off with a broom before it freezes and becomes heavy enough to damage the branches. To give evergreen shrubs even more protection, wrap their branches with twine to streamline their shape and keep the snow from building up.
The salt we use to melt snow and ice can also take a toll on trees and shrubs. When the roots absorb salt, the next season’s leaves may look burned around the edges and change color or drop prematurely. One of the easiest ways to prevent salt damage is to use other melting materials, such as sand. You can also plant salt-resistant varieties. Pyracantha, black cherry, black locust, red cedar, oak, and birch all tolerate salt without any adverse effects.
Let’s face it…winter can be tough on everyone, even trees and shrubs! But if you act now, you can help yours through another season.