How to Winterize Your Landscape Trees and Shrubs

By Allyn Paul, filed under Landscape Tips.

You guys love DIY lawn care tips. You ask tons and tons of questions about how to winterize a lawn and get read for cold weather, but most of you never think about winterizing your garden and landscape trees and shrubs. Have no fear, it’s not too late to winterize those valuable plants!

Winterizing Your Landscape Trees and Shrubs

So we’ve worked hard this year to keep our landscape plants, ei: trees and shrubs, free from insects, disease and other damaging factors. What should we do to winterize our gardens and landscapes?

Fall is a great time to check out your deciduous trees and shrubs (the ones that lose their leaves) and see if there is any cleanup that should be done. Go ahead and prune out any dead or decaying wood. It’s also a great time to clean and thin out those large trees that are keeping your from growing grass in heavy shade. Let some sunshine in!

Protecting Evergreens from Cold Winter Wind

The other side of the gardening and landscaping coin involves the anchors: the evergreens. Almost all landscapes have evergreens amongst the other plants to provide some substance during the winter (because evergreen stay green in the winter ya know!) The issue to consider here (especially in the Windy City) is that cold winds can dehydrate them, dry them out and kill em’! Have you ever noticed your evergreens looking brown after the long winter? That’s because the wind dried them out!

There are a couple things you can do. First off, you can cover all the evergreen with burlap to protect them. But folks, that just looks funky!

The better method to keep your evergreens from dehydrating is to spray your plants with an anti-desiccant, creating a waxy coating on the leaves and needles to seal in the moisture. These sprays work great while they’re on, but you’ll need to re-apply them again in January when the coldest winds sweep across the Midwest.

Here is a book definition of anti-dessicant:

“A foliage spray that aids against summer scald, transplant shock and winter moisture loss, also called desiccation”

Should You Mulch Your Plants?

People think that mulch is the cure-all for everything and will tell you to pile massive amounts of the stuff around the root structure of your shrubs prior to freezing. In all reality, mulch does little to insulate but does invite mice and other rodents in to make nests. And guess what those little bastards are doing under that mulch? …they are gnawing on the roots!

If you have roses (which are really the only plants the need mulch) then use good old fashioned dirt to insulate around them with just a think layer of mulch on top.

Cutting Back Perennials

This is another topic of strong debate in the green industry, that being “should you cut your perennials to the ground before winter.”

Keep this in mind: in the wild, no one cuts anything back! Every seen tiger lilies growing wild on the side of the road in late spring? Nobody every cut them back!

The truth is, we cut back perennials just because we don’t want dead stuff laying all over our bed rocks. There is some benefit to a good cleaning, but I recommend you wait until spring to do it.

Some perennials, like ornamental grasses provide excellent “winter interest” with their dead carcasses waving in the baron winter wind. I also believe that with many perennials, such as daylily, the extra foliage laying around helps naturally insulate the root ball, especially in raised landscape beds where the soil temps drop lower.

Between your and me, the only perennials in my landscape that I cut back in the fall are hosta. Other than that, I “let it ride until Spring.”

Winterizing Container Plants

Learn a lesson from me here folks: if you have decorative clay pots around your house, take them inside an insulated garage or your basement before night time temps hit the freezing mark.

If you leave them out, the water in the soil will freeze and expand, breaking your expensive pots!

In addition, if you have perennials in those pots, they will more-than-likely freeze to death because the pots give no insulating value.

Watering. The Most Important Winterization Practice!!!!

OK guys, this long article is about done, BUT DON”T MISS THIS LAST TIP: keep watering your trees and shrubs at least once per week all the way until the ground freezes! One of the biggest factors that causes “winter kill” in plants is them drying out. Now we have the anti-dessiccant sprays to help retain moisture in evergreen leaves, but those woody plants will dry out too. Dried-out stems die!

If you let that plant soak up water all the way until winter, it will stand a much better chance of staying healthy during the cold months when you are inside with egg-nog and your Christmas firelight!

Take these tips to heart and go out over the next few weekends and winterize your landscape! You will thank me in the spring when your plants wake up from slumber and greet you with a smile! :)

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