Dress up your landscape for winter
by C.L. Fornari
Homeowners from Boston to Washington, D.C., remember last year's heavy snows and may wonder if they can prevent winter damage to their home and landscape in the coming months.
Preparations for winter should start from the ground up.
"First on the list would be to protect the root system of trees and shrubs," says Trumbull Barrett, president of highly rated Barrett Tree Service East Inc., in Sommerville, Mass. "If you put down 3 inches of composted wood chips, that's great. Next year, they'll provide nutrients for the plant so you get a double benefit."
Covering the ground with mulch is particularly important for new plants that were installed in the fall. A layer of compost or bark mulch will keep soil temperatures warmer, which stimulates the growth of roots later in the season.
Some varieties of plants sail through the cold season, but others might need more attention.
"Arborvitaes are common evergreens planted for screening and they're very susceptible to damage from snow loads," Barrett says.
His advice is to either tie up the plant to hold the stems upright or thin the branches in order to make it less susceptible to snow damage. A decrease in the overall mass of a tree is a specialized type of limb reduction that's different from merely chopping a plant back.
In addition to pre-winter pruning, some plants need protection from winter desiccation. Cold winds and bright sun can dry evergreen foliage. "The most common form of winter damage in the Philadelphia area is moisture loss through leaves," says E.G. Rall, president of E.G. Rall, Jr. Landscape Design in Norristown, Pa.
One way to protect broadleaf evergreens is by spraying the leaves with an anti-desiccant. Rall says he sprays clients' evergreens with Wiltproof in the late fall.
"It provides a barrier on the leaves that reduces moisture loss," he says.
Although some may think that wrapping a plant with fabric will help protect it, this practice can do more harm than good. Burlap that touches needles or leaves can actually wick moisture out of foliage.
If a windbreak is needed, pound stakes a few inches from the plant and wrap burlap on those posts to create a screen. This is generally a good idea in exposed locations throughout the Northeast, but it's not necessary in all places.
"In the D.C. area, people don't need to provide screens to prevent wind damage because we might just have a 5- to 10-mile-an-hour breeze on a daily basis," says Ashley Davis, owner of highly rated Absolute Tree Company in Alexandria, Va. If you're unsure about what to do in your backyard, consult with a certified arborist or contact a local highly rated nursery.
Nevertheless, Davis says that unpredictable weather can throw a wrench in the best laid plans.
"Last year was so snowy," she says. "You just never know what the next winter will bring!"
C.L. Fornari is a writer, garden consultant, professional speaker and radio host dedicated to creating beautiful landscapes and successful gardeners. She gardens on Cape Cod, blogs at WholeLifeGardening.com, and offers other garden articles at GardenLady.com.