Some plants need winter protection, some don't

November 3, 2010 lawanda Newspaper Columns

Like it or not, it’s time to start getting your yard tucked in for winter.   There are two main things plants need protection from in winter – rabbits and the weather.

            Fencing is the only sure way to protect plants from rabbit damage.  A roll of chicken wire is inexpensive and easy to cut and wrap around tree trunks or shrubs.  Some of the plants most susceptible to winter rabbit damage are bridal wreath, arborvitae, raspberries, ornamental plums and cherries, spirea, potentilla and burning bush. 

In my yard, I don’t fence the last three on that list.  Spirea and potentilla need hard pruning in late winter anyway and the rabbits may as well do it and save me the trouble.   Burning bushes don’t necessarily need annual pruning, but I don’t want mine to get any bigger than it is, so the rabbits are welcome to prune it for me to control its size.

As a side note, I usually prune my apple and pear trees in January or February.  I leave the pruned branches on the ground under the trees until I pick them up on a nice day in March.  I always find that rabbits have enjoyed snacking on the trimmings.  My hope is that they are eating the pruned branches instead of something else I don’t want them to eat!

Most plants growing in your yard don’t need protection from cold weather.  Instead, they need to be protected from alternate freezing and thawing of the soil, which will damage their roots.  Place a 4”-6”layer of a winter mulch of straw, pine needles, wood chips or bark around young trees, perennials planted late this past summer or in fall, and bulbs planted this year.  Shallow-rooted plants like coral bells, astilbe, strawberries, tea roses, thyme and lavender should also be mulched.

Perennials growing on the south side of your house that get winter sun should always be mulched.  There is the potential for freezing and thawing again and again as the soil is warmed by the sun in the daytime and then refreezes at night.  The way I accomplish this at my house is to allow the leaves that blow into those flower beds to remain there until spring.  The stalks of uncut perennials that remain standing over winter do a good job of catching leaves.

Do not put mulch into place until after the ground freezes, usually around Thanksgiving.  Otherwise you are creating a warm nest complete with snacks for mice and moles.

Young trees whose trunks will be hit by the light of the low winter sun should be wrapped with brown paper tape or burlap to protect the trunks from sunscald and splitting.  Moisture inside the trunk is heated by the daytime sun and then freezes at night, causing the bark to split.

Mature tree trunks do not need protection from either the sun or rabbits, but if roots are near or above soil level, a covering of mulch would be wise.

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