Some people are geographically blessed to live in a zone where all year flower gardening is a reality. However, for most of us, there is a time in the winter months when the flower garden lies dormant. There are still projects you can do to help the plants and shrubs in the landscape survive winter’s snow, ice, and wind.
Prevent Snow Damage
It is heartbreaking to watch a mature tree in the landscape felled by winter weather conditions. Although there isn’t much we can do to protect Mother Nature from removing weak specimens from our gardens, we can protect evergreens and smaller trees from limb damage due to heavy snow accumulations. Use a broom to knock the snow off the lower branches of trees after a storm. You can give taller trees a gentle shake to dislodge snow from higher branches.
If your flower garden features a formal hedge of shrubs, consider shearing the shrubs into an arched shape to prevent snow damage. If you give your hedge a flattop haircut, the surface of the hedge can collect enough snow to cleave the hedge in two.
If your trees or shrubs experience breakage in the aftermath of a winter storm, prune the damaged branches as soon as you are able. Large splits in branches heal poorly, and give wood-boring pests an entry point into the tree. Dangling branches can also peel off large portions of protective bark, leaving the tree vulnerable to further damage.
Mulching and Watering
Mulch the roots of tender or shallow-rooted shrubs with a 3-inch layer of organic compost or shredded bark. Azaleas, rhododendrons, and hydrangeas benefit from protective winter mulch. Evergreen trees and shrubs, especially broadleaf evergreens like rhododendrons, become dehydrated when buffeted by winter winds.
You must provide supplemental water to your winter garden when precipitation needs aren’t met by natural means. It takes 10 inches of snow to equal one inch of liquid precipitation, so don’t let a blanket of snow convince you that your trees and shrubs are adequately hydrated.
Although you might let your guard down when it comes to winter pests in the garden, foraging mammals of all sizes present a threat to trees and shrubs. Keep mulch pulled away from the bases of shrubs and the trunks of trees to prevent mice from taking up residence. Protect the bark of shrubs and young trees from nibbling rabbits. Repel rabbits with a homemade mash of hot peppers, garlic, and water.
You can also sprinkle black pepper liberally around plants. Wrap young trees with burlap or wire mesh, and apply the wrap high enough to compensate for the lift rabbits get when they climb onto snow banks. Scavenging deer are a matter for another article entirely; the short answer is the placement of an 8-foot tall fence, or two 4-foot tall fences spaced three feet apart.
After you’ve tended to the trees and shrubs in your winter landscape, turn your attention to the flower garden.