Tag Archives: Winter plant protection

Starting my garden list again

2015-12-3 gloves -prunersContributed by Allan Robinson

Like many of you, last weekend I was completing one of the “final” final clean-ups of the year. I’m hedging to say “final” as this IS New England and for another few weeks leaves will accumulate beneath the Boxwood hedge along my front walk. As the garden winds down, I find myself ticking through my mental checklist, taking stock of my garden. The thought occurs to me – maybe I will be out at least one more time unless Mother Nature unleashes the first snowfall of the year soon – but I digress.

I began my mental list of autumnal tasks: leaves bagged and at the curb, mm-hmm; bulbs in the ground ready to pop in the spring, ok; spigots off, hoses and patio furniture in the basement – all present and accounted for.  Perennials cut back – I’ve even divided a few and transplanted them, ready to settle in for their long sleep.  The winter A-frames and other assorted structures are in place to protect the plants in case we have another monumental snow load like last year.  Holiday lights are on the tree and the ground is beginning to freeze.  I think I may be done, beyond those last pesky leaves.

Sadly another year of gardening is coming to a close.  I’ll continue to mark the calendar with the usual events like Christmas, New Years, MLK & Valentine’s Day until garden activities resume.  I will also follow many of the winter garden events such as my Hawthorne tree losing its berries, Hellebores blooming in late winter, Crocuses and Snowdrops poking their heads through the snow, and some of the surest signs of spring: Hostas, Daylilies and Peonies beginning to push their tiny tips through the ground around the beginning of April. I can’t wait!

Until then I’ll be planning for next year’s garden. Lining up more tasks and big ideas like I hatched during last year’s 106 inches of snow. More transplanting, new plants and bigger projects like a reconfigured deck and an artistic fence to frame a view. While I am sad to head back inside, I feel a sense of satisfaction and optimism for 2016. How about you?

THE COST OF WINTER DAMAGE

split tree crotchHow many of you had deep sadness this spring when you saw the snow’s violent impact on your favorite Weeping Japanese Maple, Mounded Pine, or other beloved plant? Christie Dustman & Co. spent much of the spring in plant triage mode; in many cases, we had to remove and replace the plant.

The problem with mixing winter and plants is that the plant’s branch carrying capacity – tensile strength of the limb – can be overtaxed by the weight sitting on it. A large volume of light and fluffy snow is much easier for the branch to bear than the same volume of heavy wet snow.

Heavy weight on limbs causes different effects:

Bending: When a branch bends, it still is attached and can generally right itself when relieved. The branches sag downward.

Breaking: If the branch bends too far, it breaks and often tears or rips off of the plant, leaving an ugly torn area of bark. In the spring we cleanly re-cut the break and trim the edges of the ripped bark so that the plant can try to heal over this open wound.

Splitting: This is when two branches attach in a V shape and the attachment of the two fanning branches is weak. We call it a “weak crotch” in arborist terms. Many Japanese Maples had weak crotches that split last winter. For some, we used a stainless steel screw and cinched them back together; if this didn’t didn’t provide enough stability, we had to remove one large limb or say goodbye to the whole plant.

Uprooting: If the snow pulls over the plant or tree, we call this a plant failure. This sort of damage is more common with high winds combined with weight on the plant.

shrub taped to protectSo what can you do to minimize damage? Let us implement these solutions at your house:

Lightly tie/bind columnar evergreens or other vase-shaped type plants for added resistance against the branches splaying open and breaking. Don’t cinch too tightly – just tie loosely like a hair net. We use a stretchy Arborist tape.propped tree limbs

Prop up horizontal limbs from underneath with a Bamboo support or with another tree branch with a crook in it.

Build an A-frame structure over a Weeping Japanese Maple or mounded type shrubs in vulnerable locations – like where shoveled snow will collect or slide off a roof.

a-frame slotted shelterVery carefully knock off snow from plants where you see them sagging. This is NOT advisable if the snow is icy and is stuck on the branch or if you apply a lot of force. You can do more damage.

Protect your favorite and most valuable plants. We are fabricating shrub sheltercustom winter protection solutions for our clients – both A-frames that can be reused year to year as well as tying/propping up limbs. Call us and we can devise an individualized solution for your plants!

Water in the Winter and Antidesiccants

11-18-14 browned shrubsIf you’ve ever participated in winter sports, you know how easy it is to forget to drink water with snow around, yet once you do, you realize how thirsty you are! It is easy to get dehydrated if you’ve been outside for a while in the winter sun. Plants are no different.

When it is super cold outside, the humidity in the air drops significantly. That is what makes the air feel clean and crisp. And why you need a humidifier indoors. This dry air can cause serious damage to plants especially when combined with wind and sun. Even though it is cold outside, it can be warm inside the plant’s leaf – and water evaporates. When a plant loses more water than it can replenish through its roots, the natural process of transpiration (water loss through plant respiration) causes plant desiccation. Desiccation is when the plant cells collapse and die after drying out, causing discolored/ brown/dry areas of tissue. We call this winter burn.

Most important: we can’t prevent the soil around the roots from freezing – but we can give our plants a leg up prior to the ground freezing. Watering your trees and shrubs well into the fall, right up until the ground freezes, can help plants fully hydrate. We recommend watering through Thanksgiving. This is especially important if rain has been scarce during the growing season like this summer.

For some evergreens and bro11-18-14 dessicated rhodo leavesadleaf evergreens like Rhododendrons and Hollies, antidesiccant sprays can help. The anti-transpirant spray coats the leaves and diminishes the loss of moisture through the leaf’s pores, much like an oil based lotion on your legs. These sprays should be used in late December (temps @ 40°), only after the evergreen is fully dormant. Otherwise water can get trapped in the leaf and freeze, causing cellular damage. Our sources indicate that antidesiccants are not reliably effective and can actually harm some plants like Chamaecyparis and Blue Spruce. Read the label and follow directions carefully if you want to try it.

You may recall seeing shrubs all bundled up in burlap in the winter. This can be effective, particularly when the plant is subject to sun and wind or salt. But the cold still gets inside the burlap. We only recommend burlapping shrubs if they are in a very vulnerable location. Often these “winter tasks” are more for our comfort as the gardener looking at our plants rather than for the plant’s benefit. This is true too for salt marsh hay. We don’t use salt marsh hay for a variety of reasons – we leave a layer of leaves on perennial beds. The best “blanket” is actually snow itself, which keeps the temperature around the leaves consistent and blocks the sun.

With winters, we face the vagaries of nature and have to admit that we can only do so much to help our friends the plants.