Winter Protection for Our Green Friends


     According to Consumer Reports, the average depreciation value for all models of automobiles is 45 percent over the first three years. Having said this, most go to great lengths to protect an investment that’s depreciating. Checking fluids; changing the oil every three thousand miles, being mindful of the engine coolant, watching the power steering levels, radiator and battery fluids are all basic maintenance we pay particular attention to as we  approach winter. Furthermore, spark plugs, brakes and lights are all on schedule to be checked, repaired or simply maintained throughout the year. We put snow tires on cars, sometimes chains and add water to engine coolants so they do not freeze when the bitter cold hits zero degrees. Shouldn’t the same attentions and commitments be implemented to protect our landscapes? After all, landscapes that are well maintained appreciate adding to the resale of your home.

FIRST AND FOREMOST, FALL IS AN EXCELLENT TIME TO PLANT TREES AND SHRUBS!! Plant material is going dormant and thus there is virtually no transplant shock. So feel free to move plants about your property, assiduously checking for the occasional fall dig hazard plants. Conversely, planting trees and shrubs simply means slipping the plant material into the ground which you have just purchased.  Water requirements are far less as temperatures are plunging and you may even come across an occasional deal as plant purveyors are committed to depleting inventory this time of year.

Hopefully by now you have been diligently watering and fertilizing your plant material through summer and early fall. Watering can be decreased in early fall and should be increased towards the end of late fall to help protect trees and shrubs. Just before you turn your outdoor water off for the winter, give your trees and shrubs one last long, slow drink as this will help protect them from the drying winds of winter. Allow plants to go dormant. Don’t encourage growth by adding nitrogen fertilizers in the fall. This will stimulate top growth and force plants to reach and stretch at a time when they should be relaxing and ready to sleep. Phosphorous and potassium fertilizers will be better suited to help with winter acclimation. Consider wrapping younger trees with a commercial tree wrap, vinyl or paper, as you will protect them from desiccating winds as well as from “buck rub” (deer damage). Protecting evergreens from drying winds has always been a topic of debate. Antidesiccants (Anti-Transpirants) help protect broadleaf evergreens like hollies, rhododendron, azaleas and laurels, but should not be used to protect our needled friends. Spruce, hemlock, arborvitae, pines etc. should not be sprayed but rather have a burlap wall around them. Winter browning of evergreens is caused by a combined effect of wind and sun. Thus, these coniferous evergreens will benefit immensely by simply providing them with a line of defense. In this case a burlap wall. Thoughtfully select species and cultivars that will tolerate the given surroundings. Plant species that are susceptible to winter injury should be thoughtfully placed in areas of minimal exposure to winter wind and sun. In other words, don’t plant Prunus laurocerasus ‘Schipkaensis’ (Shipka or Skip Laurel) on the west side of your property, without protection, and expect great results. While one of the hardiest of the cherry laurels, this broadleaf evergreen found near the Shipka Pass in Bulgaria, is often placed in wind tunnels only to succumb a most certain death.

Mulching your trees, shrubs and perennials for the winter is very important. However, doing it properly is even more important. Two to four inches of mulch around your plants is plenty. Too much mulch is just as bad as too little mulch. Aside from aesthetics, the purpose of mulch is to regulate and control temperature and hold moisture. Too little and plants can dry out. Too much and plants can rot. Always be mindful to keep the mulch material away from direct contact with the bark of trees.

Finally, there is still enough time to plant bulbs for next year. The ground should still be “workable” and thus you can add tremendous excitement to your garden by having bulbs peek out early next spring. The pedestrian types such as Tulips, Hyacinths and Crocus are always welcome; however consider Scilla, Chionodoxa, Allium and Fritillaria to spice things up a bit. Remember, Narcissus (Daffodil) is always a good staple bulb that not only naturalizes but is “Deer Proof”.  All will look great emerging somewhere between the flowering of Hamamelis (Witchhazel) and the Mahonia (Oregon Grapeholly).