12October 18, 2018

The cold weather of October has arrived and it is time to winterize your trees, shrubs and perennials. Let me tell you 2 reasons that you need to do this project soon.

When the ground eventually freezes, the action of the ground freezing lifts the plant that is in the ground. This action actually breaks some of the roots. Come the spring when the ground thaws, the plant settles back into the ground. The spring rain and the moisture from the snow help the damaged roots to re-grow. If it all worked out this way, you would never have any knowledge that this had happened. The problem comes in that many years we don’t have just one of the freeze thaw cycles. Each time the soil freezes; some of the roots get damaged. We then get some warm winter weather and the plants settle back down into the ground. Then the soil freezes again and then it thaws again. This alternate freezing and thawing all winter long can lead to a lot of damage to the roots of your plants.

What you need to do is to put a 3-inch layer of mulch on top of the soil in the area of where the roots grow underground. You don’t want to have the mulch against the stem of the plant. The wet mulch against the stem all winter can lead to damage to the bark. If you use bark mulch, you could apply this layer of mulch now. If you use salt marsh hay or straw, you need to wait until the ground freezes before you apply the hay / straw. If you put it down too early, mice may find it an inviting home which can lead to the mice feeding on the bark of the plant.

The other thing that you need to know is that during the winter, we have many windy days. This wind tends to be very dry wind. As the wind blows past your plants, the wind pulls moisture out of your plants. Over time, the wind can dry out the plant and damage the ability of the plant to take up water in the spring. This often leads to the death of the plant. One of the most important things you can do is to make sure that your trees and shrubs get water each week. Mother Nature may provide the rain but if not you need to be watering the plants once a week until the ground freezes. Your trees and shrubs will take up the water and store the water in the twigs and branches. If you have evergreens such as rhododendrons and hollies that keep their leaves all winter, some of the water is stored in the leaves too. All this stored water allows the plant to lose water to the wind without damage to the wind.

As is the case in most things in life, you have no idea now how much of the drying winds we will get this winter. Despite all your watering, a windy winter could still dry out your plants. What you need to do is to add an additional layer of protection. You can wrap susceptible plants with burlap. The burlap will slow down the wind, yet the weave of the burlap will not trap in heat. Trapped heat can lead to the plants losing moisture too. This could happen if you wrap the plants with plastic instead of burlap. If you don’t like the looks of burlap, there are many other options. Several years ago, we found a company that makes a plant cover that looks like a little tent. They come in several sizes. You place them over the plant and the stakes that come with the tent are pounded in the ground to hold the tent in place. Each year we do run out of these, so come take a look now and see if you like them.

There is also a spray on wax called Wilt Pruf. This wax is sprayed on the leaves and twigs of your plants. The wax sets up and the waxy coating slows the loss of water by 30 to 50 %. The Wilt Pruf needs to be applied when temperatures are above 40 degrees and it needs to “set” in daylight hours. We have carried this product for years and it has proved to be a lifesaver for many plants.

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

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