BLUSTERY WINDS HAVE begun to blow, and our time spent in the garden diminishes throughout November. Before we head inside to spend winter in our climate-controlled homes, some plants should be prepared for the onslaught of Old Man Winter. How we protect our plants will depend on the species and the location in which they are growing.
Evergreens: Before the ground freezes, be sure to give all evergreens ample watering. Evergreens lose moisture throughout the winter, but with frozen soils they can’t replenish water through their roots. The area around them should be mulched with a 3-inch layer of organic mulch, such as shredded bark or shredded leaves. Mulch will regulate soil temperatures and keep the soil in a thawed state longer in the season. Evergreens that have been added to the landscape this season would benefit from a protective barrier around them. This is especially important if they are in an exposed area. This can be done best by driving in wooden stakes around the drip line and stapling burlap to the stakes to create a wind screen. Broadleaf evergreens may benefit with the addition of a spray of antidesicants. These sprays create a protective barrier on the leaves that prevents moisture loss. They should be reapplied in January.
Deciduous woody plants: Rabbits and voles are active all winter and can acutely injure plants. Deciduous plants (those that lose their leaves) should not be mulched until late November. If mulched now, rodents may take up residence in this winter protection and gnaw the bark. Removal of bark is a serious injury to the plants’ vascular system and creates an opening for pathogens. Newly planted woody ornamentals can be protected by installing a tree guard on the trunk. Guards should be as tall as possible to provide protection during deep snow cover. Rabbits will stand on top of a snow bank to do their damage. These guards should remain in place only during the winter. It is very important to remove them in the spring. Voles can be managed with mouse snap traps baited with peanut butter-oatmeal mixture in their runs. To protect the traps from other creatures and pets, cover traps with inverted coffee cans with entry holes for the voles.
Roses: Roses should be minimally pruned to make them a manageable size. Save major pruning until spring. Tie the canes together to prevent wind damage. After carefully cleaning up any leaves from around the roses, mound up a loose textured soil (taken from another area of the garden) approximately 12 inches high around the crown. Do not scrape soil from around the roots to do this as it may result in winter injury. Cover the remaining exposed area with leaves or a Styrofoam rose cone anchored to the ground. Air ventilation holes should be cut in the top and sides so air inside the cone doesn’t heat up prematurely on sunny days.
For information on managing voles or rabbits, call your local cooperative extension for the wildlife damage fact sheets on either.