The colorful days of fall are over and it is the time to prepare for the winter ahead. What can we do to help our landscape get through winter in good shape?
Remember that dehydration is the greatest threat to landscape plantings. The cold arctic wind that blows from the north and west is the worst culprit. The sun also contributes to the drying effect. Rhododendron, Holly, Laurel, and other broadleaf evergreens are in the worst danger of being damaged by desiccation. Though they are evergreens, they still enter a dormant stage as the ground freezes. The dry, windy, frigid days of January and February will give these plants little respite.
Constructing burlap windbreaks is a good way to protect evergreens. Drive hardwood stakes about a foot into the ground and staple burlap to them, leaving the top open. The idea is to block as much wind as possible. Remember, wind coming from the east or south is warmer and gentler. Construct your windbreak so it protects plants from the much harsher prevailing winds that blow from the north and west.
Snow, ice and wind aren’t the only threats to our landscape plants in winter. There are also hungry animals out there looking for food, and many of our landscape plants are on their menu. So how do we keep mice and deer and rabbits from making a meal of our plants?
For absolute deer, mouse and rabbit protection, you’ll need a physical barrier. Tree wrap allows you to wrap the trunk right down to the soil so critters will never be tempted to take a bite. Once trees get old enough and develop the rough bark of a mature tree, the mice and deer won’t bother them anymore.
Deer will also nibble the buds of many flowering shrubs like lilacs, azaleas and forsythia which set flower buds in the summer. Those buds must survive winter to open in spring, but these nutrient-packed buds are just what the deer need in the depths of winter. The only way to prevent this is by creating an enclosure of deer netting. If you have evergreens like arborvitae that deer love to eat, wrap the deer netting directly around the evergreen. Deer netting is made of plastic, and with a little care, it can be reused for many years.
The term “blanket of snow” is very appropriate. The “blanket” of snow acts as an insulating barrier. In years of “snow drought,” the exposed crowns of our beloved perennial flowers are exposed to the cold, drying winter winds. Snow will shelter and protect our perennials, lessening the chance of winterkill. Although it is counterintuitive, shoveling snow onto your perennial beds can help protect them through the winter. During snowless winters, covering them with evergreen boughs is a good substitute for snow and there is no shortage of discarded evergreens in January!
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