Preparing our woody plants

Are we in for another brutal winter? The Farmer's Almanac predicts a colder winter with above average snowfall. I have always been somewhat skeptical of predictions. Yet interestingly, Farmer's Almanac has 80-85% accuracy for the publication's annual forecast. I find it amusing; the publishers are very secretive about their method of calculation.

What we do know - our plants were severely abused by last winter's cold temps, frequent snowfall, and overall length of season. So, what can we do to not have a repeat performance? I will preface my plan of action to say, there is actaully little that can be done to minimize damage from sub zero temperatures. However, there is much we can do to protect and preserve our plant material from the winter's elements.

Every good protection plan starts with the right plant material. Choose plants tolerant of our hardiness zone. The zones are mapped out based on the average minimum winter temperature. Depending on your proximity to the lake, we are in the plant hardiness zone 4-5.

To explore how we can best protect our plant material this winter, let's start from the bottom up. Roots are best protected with a blanket of mulch. It seems anti-climatic to mulch in the fall, when our outdoor time winds down. A layer of mulch helps fluctuating soil temperatures. In other words, mulch will help retain any soil heat available. Eventually, the ground will freeze and the roots will be subjected to the sub freezing temps.

We can also take measures to protect the plant's structure above ground. Narrow leaf evergreens and broadleaf evergreens such as Rhododendron, Holly, and Azalea are highly susceptible to desiccation. Once the ground freezes, evergreen plants cannot replace lost moisture due to sun and wind. Burlap and or anti-desiccants can help minimize this exposure and in turn minimize damage. This can be especially effective on those plants exposed to west of southern exposures or sweeping winds. Anti-desiccants (such as "Wiltproof") come in a liquid form, sprayed on foliage. This protective layer holds in moisture and acts somewhat like wrapping your plants with plastic wrap. It is very effective, only limited by its longevity. Its effectiveness is about one month, depending on rain and snowfall. Make note: Temps need to be above freezing in order to apply, making re-applicaton difficult without an occassional winter thaw. And finally, there's snow load to consider. Snowfall can be heavy at times and cause branches and limbs to snap. An easy and cost effective way to protect broadleaf and deciduous shrubs is simply wrap plants with twine.

Who's to say what kind of winter it will be. Taking a few precautions to protect and preserve our landscape investment is always a good idea. Let's prepare for the worst and hope for the best. If we can be of help, give us a call. (440) 313-2162