For die-hard gardeners, it can be a bittersweet experience to have the dormancy and cold of winter rapidly approaching. To ensure that your gardens and landscapes weather through the upcoming season there are a few helpful reminders to act upon while ground is still visible!
Mulch, mulch and more mulch
Mulch helps insulate plant roots from the cold and also helps to reduce soil moisture loss. A properly applied mulch layer can also help reduce the likelihood that plants will be uplifted from the soil during freezing and thawing over the course of the winter. But don’t go overboard… huge piles of mulch around tree trunks and branches can actually lead to rot and other problems. Usually a 2-3” layer of mulch is ample for winter protection.
Mulch is also a great cover for chipmunks, mice and voles that can easily girdle young trees and shrubs. Pull the mulch away from tree trunks and branches, leaving several inches between the plant and the mulch layer. This open space makes critters more visible to predators and can help you visibly detect if you do have rodent pests sneaking around your plants.
Water is essential for plant growth and survival. With evergreen plants that hold onto their leaves and needles throughout the winter, water is a necessity for making it through to spring. Desiccation, or the drying out of foliage, is a common culprit for plant death in the winter. Drying winter winds coupled with intense winter sun causes plants to transpire and that lost moisture cannot be adequately replaced if the ground is frozen below the plants root system. It is important to water plantings well during a dry fall to ensure that plants can access suitable moisture reserves. A long deep soaking of the soil can help to ease the stress of winter conditions. It is also not uncommon to water landscape plants during warm spells throughout the winter, to help replace some of the lost moisture.
For small evergreens that are in exposed locations you can create a seasonal windbreak to protect them from harsh, drying winter winds. For most plants, it’s best to use metal stakes or other available materials like pallets, to first build a frame around the plant and then wrap materials like burlap or canvas around the frame. Avoid using black plastic as a wrapping material as this can cause alter the ambient temperature around the plant and lead to problems. While it may not look fabulous, this method can save young evergreens and help them to weather through the winter. Anti-desiccants are also used as a foliar spray on evergreen foliage, however frequent application is required and UV light can degrade them so quickly that they often are not successful.
So enjoy these last few opportunities to be outside in your gardens and spend the winter dreaming of the new plants you’ll add next year!