December 19, 2019
It has been a strange weather pattern for the last month. We have very warm days, we have very cold days, we have had heavy amounts of rain and we have had moderate amounts of snow and most of that snow disappeared.
All of this up and down weather can spell havoc for your trees and shrubs.
When the weather gets cold and the ground freezes, the action of the ground freezing can lift your trees and shrubs ever so slightly out of the ground. You probably would never even notice this imperceptible movement. Yet this upward movement does slightly damage the roots of the plant. If the ground thaws, the plants do to a certain degree, settle back into the ground. If the ground freezes again, the plant gets lifted again and more of the root system is damaged.
It is the freeze and thaw cycle that can damage the root system of your plants. If you are a regular reader of this column, you will remember that in early fall, I advised you to add additional mulch around your plants to insulate the roots of the plants. This added layer of mulch prevents the ground from the alternating freeze/ thaw cycle of the underling root system. If the freeze / thaw cycle allows the root system to be repeatedly damaged, you may have issues with your plants in the spring.
There have been spring seasons where shrubs come through the early spring looking fine. As soon as the weather warms up, many plants begin to turn and die. The reason this happens is that the plant’s damaged roots can keep up with the cool temperatures and supply just enough water to keep the plant looking good. Yet once the temperatures rise, the damaged roots cannot supply enough water to keep the plant healthy. The question is what can you do now.
Probably the most important thing you can do is to apply a 3-inch layer of mulch around your plants. Most of the garden centers will still have bags of mulch. The bags may be frozen but if you open the bags on one of the warm days, the mulch should thaw enough to allow you to spread it.
Some garden centers may also have bulk bark mulch. If you need a yard or more of mulch, that may be the most economical way to go. Come the spring, you can spread the excess mulch over the rest of the beds and you will have less work to do maintaining a 3 inch layer over all the shrub and perennial beds during the growing season.
Another thing that you can do is to wrap your shrubs with burlap. This probably won’t protect the roots of your plants, but it will keep the wind from pulling moisture out of the stems, twigs and branches of your shrubs. Shrubs that keep their leaves all winter are particularly susceptible to damage by the dry winter winds pulling moisture out of the leaves. The reason you will be doing this is because come the spring, your shrubs will have less wind damage and the roots of the plants will have an easier time repairing themselves while the shrubs will have less demand for water due to minimal winter wind damage.
If you do these things this early winter, your shrubs may come through fine and you may wonder if you really needed to do this extra work. On the other hand, if you don’t do these things and your plants wind up with major winter damage, you will wish that you had taken the time to do the work now.
Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.