By Bonnie L. Grant
Fall is the best time to get out in the garden and secure your sensitive and tender plants. Protecting plants in winter can help prevent winter scald, frozen roots, foliar damage and even death. Cold weather plant protection takes a little pre-planning and some equipment in harsher zones. In mild and temperate climates, it usually just means re-mulching and dividing peonies and other early spring bloomers. Fall maintenance should include a plan for winter protection for plants and winter plant covers.
Winter Protection for Plants
One of the easiest and most effective ways to protect sensitive plants is by mulching. Mulching with an organic material will also help enhance the soil as the mulch decomposes and releases nutrients to the earth. In autumn, pull back old mulches from the base of plants and spread a new 3-inch layer around them out to the drip line. Leave a 1/2-inch space around the plant’s stem to allow air circulation and prevent rot.
Wrap tender tree trunks with burlap or white wash them to prevent winter sunscald.
Rake a mound of soil around the base of roses to a depth of 12 to 18 inches to protect the crown.
Apply an anti-desiccant to new foliage on bushes and shrubs that will shield the foliage from wind and winter sun.
Lay a layer of 6 to 8 inches of wood chips or straw over perennial and flower beds.
Protect outdoor plants in winter with screens or frames erected on the southwest side and make sure to water before a freeze. Wet soils prevent freeze injury to roots because moist soil holds more heat than dry soil.
Keep potted plants on dollies so you can wheel them to a sheltered location or indoors when temperatures drop.
It can be beneficial to create a structure or cage around some plants. A chicken wire cage is useful as a cold barrier for trunks when filled with straw. Use twine to wrap tall shrubs, such as arborvitae. This brings the limbs in closer so they don’t splay and break if snow builds up on them. Use stakes to prop up horizontal limbs that might break if snow makes them too heavy.
How to Protect Plants from Freezing
Seasoned gardeners know their zones and are prepared with materials to protect plants from freezing. Cold weather plant protection can be as simple as a blanket. Have on hand frost barrier fabric for fruit trees in spring. A swath of burlap is also useful to cover plants in the event of a freeze. These types of winter protection for plants may be left in place for the duration of the freeze. Covers should be removed during the daytime. Covers must reach all the way to the root zone to be the most effective. Stake or tie them down but resist the urge to bind them around the plant. This can cause stem and foliar injury.