How to - Gardening Basics

Winter foes: Sun, wind and snow

Mary Fran McQuade

Protect your plants and trees from wicked winter weather

Snow problem?

Snow, by itself, is actually a good thing, says Schwenker. It keeps the ground cold, protecting the roots of plants from disturbance during their winter's sleep. When it does melt in spring, snow tends to melt slowly. The ground is also thawing, so the earth can gradually absorb the water.

Of course, soil with good drainage is the key to making this natural cycle work. If you're cursed with heavy, clay soil, the snow melt could turn into an ice pack or standing water. "Amend the soil," Schwenker recommends. "Compost, compost, compost, and work it in at least 12 inches [30 cm]."

Snow load is another thing to watch for: "Don't pile snow on top of your nice boxwood hedge," he warns. Aim for the base of evergreens and twiggy shrubs; dumping it on top is likely to bend—and eventually break—branches.

Beware of snow load after a heavy snowfall, too. "It's good to shake off your more vulnerable plant material," Schwenker says. "You can get out there with a broom or rake to do it."

Easy solutions to winter woes
Follow these easy tips to avoid losing plants to wind, sun and snow damage:

  • Wrap plants loosely in a weatherproof fabric like burlap to protect them from drying winds and to keep floppy specimens from bending under the weight of the snow. Tree wraps made of burlap or special cardboard sleeves that go around the trunks help prevent frost cracks. You can also use sheets of white polyfoam, but avoid black plastic, Schwenker emphasizes; black absorbs heat and your plant will cook.
  • Shade the ground, especially your roses and exposed flowering shrubs, with evergreen branches. Discarded Christmas trees are great for this, either whole or cut apart. The branches hold their needles through the winter, providing protection from sun and wind and helping hold snow in place. They'll even keep the ground from thawing during short, sudden warm spells.
  • Mulch everywhere you can. Remember all those leaves last fall? This is their purpose in life. Just like snow, shredded or rotted leaves, or broken-up bales of straw, act as an insulator and keep the ground nice and cold. As time passes, the mulch will hold in soil moisture, prevent weeds and ultimately break down into lovely loam—an added bonus.

All these winter solutions work together, Schwenker points out. With them—and a little luck—you can look forward to a green and happy spring.


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