5 Ways to Protect Your Shrubs from Cold Weather Damage
Give your shrubs a little help getting through the freezing winter this year with these five smart tips.
There’s no denying it — shrubs are garden powerhouses. Not only do they lay out a visual structure, but they also provide pretty flowers, lush foliage, and a home for wildlife all year round. That’s why it’s so important to protect them when they’re most vulnerable: the most frigid months of the year. Freezing winds, unreliable moisture and hungry animals can inflict serious damage, which typically isn’t found until the warmer weather returns in the spring. Here are five ways to prevent shrub damage before the snow and ice storms hit.
1. Pick Hardy Varieties
Simply choosing the best possible shrubs for your area is the strongest way to ensure they survive the winter. When picking out plants, know your hardiness zone and other necessary growing conditions so that the plants you choose are well-suited to your climate. Do you have a shrub that has a difficult time every winter? It might be a good idea to replace it with a more suitable species — one that is a better fit for your landscape’s specific growing conditions. Seek out plants native to your location to start your search.
2. Keep Shrubs Hydrated
To get through winter, your plants have a much better chance when they’re healthy and well-watered. Water is typically the most restricted growth resource when it’s cold, but luckily it’s one that can be easily supplied. Start by hydrating your shrubs deeply in the fall, particularly if they haven’t seen much moisture during the regular growing season. Providing water will support quality root growth, which leads to a robust, healthy plant — even after it has gone dormant. Try to give shrubs enough water so that the soil is moistened 8 to 10 inches beneath the surface. Do this once a week until the ground is frozen.
3. Insulate Roots from Extreme Cold
For shrubs that have just been planted and those sensitive to colder temps, give them some additional protection right at soil level. Snow is a natural insulator for the plant’s root zone and helps to keep the soil temperature moderate. However, it’s impossible to rely on a consistent inches-thick layer of snow all season. Instead, turn to mulch. Apply a 4-inch layer around your shrubs for a strong layer of protection. Compost, leaves, straw, and shredded bark are all effective mulch options. Pull up the mulch when you see the first signs of plant growth in the spring.
4. Safeguard Against Hungry Critters
While we all feel for hungry critters in the winter, they have the ability to transform a shrub into an all-you-can-eat buffet when food is hard to find throughout the landscape. Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do to keep them away other than erect a barrier around vulnerable or sentimental plants.
The fencing material you choose depends on the types of animals you are trying to block. Small rodents, like mice and rabbits for example, can be kept at bay with a length of ¼-inch mesh hardware cloth encircled around the shrub. Make sure the barrier stands at least 24 inches higher than the expected snow line. Added protection can be gained by embedding the bottom edge of the hardware cloth into the ground a few inches. This will make it harder for animals to dig under the barrier to get to the shrub. To keep deer out, the fence should be at least 8 feet tall.
If you’re able to apply liquid animal repellents frequently, they will be useful at keeping deer and other critters away. Most effective? Products using predator urine, odorous egg solids, and slaughterhouse waste materials. Just don’t apply them near outdoor living areas or walkways if you want to save your own nose. Repellants work best when applied early in the season and then reapplied as needed after snow or rain.
5. Block Out Harsh Winds
Frigid winter winds have a drying effect on shrubs, especially broadleaf evergreens like boxwood and rhododendrons. Blasts of freezing air can make plants turn brown, as their needles or leaves lose water. When severe enough, the water loss can cause serious damage or even kill a shrub.
Vulnerable plants can be helped by putting up a temporary structure near them to break the wind. For petite shrubs, plant covers work. But for bigger shrubs, you’ll have to place several stakes into the ground all the way around the plant in the autumn, and then wrap the stakes with canvas cloth or burlap. Avoid using plastic, as it can result in harmful temperature fluctuations.