Last year’s winter was a reminder of how tough the weather in Wisconsin can be.. The evergreen shrubs and trees in our yards suffered the worst damage we have seen in years. A late fall drought and the early freezing of the soil left our landscapes in an unfavorable place right from the start.
The one thing you can always count on here is that the weather is ever-changing, so it is best to prepare our landscapes for winter’s challenges. There are a few quick and easy things you can do now to prevent winter damage later.
1. Water your evergreen shrubs and trees until the ground freezes: This allows the plant to start the winter fully hydrated, moisture lost during the winter cannot be replaced when the roots are frozen. Plants with shallow root systems like boxwood really need a good watering before the ground freezes.
2. Mulch the root base: Keeping 3″ of an organic mulch around the shrub or tree will insulate the root system and prevent frost heaving. Make sure to keep mulch away from the stem or trunk, placing the mulch over the root base only.
3. Provide protection from the wind and sun: Placing a burlap screen or wrapping around evergreens will prevent the needles and leaves from browning. Spraying the foliage of the evergreens with an anti-desiccant or anti-transpirant such as Wilt Pruf® will help protect your plants from losing moisture during cold sunny or windy days.
4. Protect breakage from heavy snow: To prevent Arborvitae from splitting due to heavy snow loads of ice, tie the upper most branches together with twin. Remember to remove the twine in spring before new growth begins.
5. Prevent deer and rodent damage: Lots of snow means animals are more desperate for food sources. Hardware cloth cages around the bases of plants will keep rabbits and voles from chewing on the bark. Bird netting draped over arborvitae, yews and rhododendrons will help keep the deer from snacking on them. Take a walk through your winter landscape every few weeks to look for areas of repeat damage so you can stop it before it becomes a serious problem.