25 October 20, 2010

Last Wednesday afternoon, I was looking at the dogwood tree that is in my front yard. I knew that there were cold temperatures the night before, but didn’t think that we had a frost. The top four feet of the tree had leaves that had been hit by frost but the other 12 feet of the tree was fine. Frost does tend to settle down from the sky. As it turns out, we had a frost the previous night but it never quite made it to the ground!

If you think back to last spring, many of our shrubs were damaged by the persistent wind that we had during the winter of 2009 – 2010. Boxwood, holly, rhododendron, azalea and all of the other broadleaf evergreens were damaged. Hydrangea and rosebushes were damaged as well. All of these plants can be dried out by the winter’s wind. Since we don’t know what the winter will bring, it is time to think about how you can protect those plants form the dry winds that are sure to come during the winter of 2010-2011.

During the fall, shrubs take up water and store that water in the stems and leaves of the plant. Once the ground freezes, the plants no longer have the ability to take up any water. If the winds remain strong all winter long, the leaves and stems can be dried out to the point of damage to the plants.  During the winter months, the wind pulls moisture out of the plants. As I said earlier, some plants can be bothered more than others by this drying effect of the wind. If you can help to cut down on the exposure these plants have to the wind, the plants have a better chance at survival. There are several ways that you can help the plants to ward off the effects of the winter’s wind.

The old standby method to protect your plants is to wrap the plants in burlap. Unlike plastic that can hold in heat on sunny days and actually lead to damage to the plants, burlap does not allow the heat to build up around the plants. The burlap slows down the effect of the wind by physically preventing the wind from coming in contact with the leaves and branches of the plant. You can buy rolls of burlap at your local garden centers. It is helpful to place wooden stakes in the ground to help to support the burlap. The wind and the snow can tend to pull the burlap off of the plants if there is no additional support to hold up the burlap. Again, you can buy the wooden stakes at your local garden centers. The stakes need to be long enough so that you can drive them about 1 foot into the ground. If your plants were 3 feet tall, then you would need a 4-foot stake. Generally speaking, you should use 3 stakes per plant. The stakes should be placed close to the plant, but not so close that you can damage the plant by driving the stake into the ground. The burlap is then wrapped around the stakes, covering all parts of the plant. You can use a staple gun to staple the burlap to the stakes. I have found that by tightly wrapping garden twine around the burlap, it helps to hold the burlap in place during those northeast snowstorms that we tend to get in the winter. Additionally, the burlap can help to prevent damage from heavy snow snapping off the branches.

Burlap should be placed around the plants before the ground freezes. Notice that I said before the ground freezes, not before we have a frost. A frost will put the plants into dormancy; frozen ground makes it almost impossible to drive those stakes into the ground. You can wrap the shrubs after the ground freezes, but not using the stakes makes it harder to secure the burlap in place.  Add wrapping the shrubs to the fall list of things to do.

As an alternative to wrapping your shrubs in burlap, there is a spray that you can apply to the leaves that will help to prevent wind damage. I’ll tell you more about that spray next week.

Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.

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