Winter Care of Trees and Shrubs: Prevent Cold Weather Damage

Winter Care of Trees and Shrubs: Prevent Cold Weather Damage

If you live in a cold-weather zone, you know that winter can be hard on garden plants. Here are tips for protecting your valuable woody plants.


Good winter care starts with thorough watering in the fall.

When the garden season draws to a close, it is tempting to just forget about your plants.

However you should continue to water all woody plants – especially newly planted trees and shrubs and all evergreens in the fall.

Evergreens and broadleaf evergreens don’t lose their leaves, so they need a good store of moisture going into winter because they continue to transpire (give off water vapor) through the cold months.

Most winter damage to evergreens doesn’t actually come from cold, but from the drying effects of late winter sun and wind. With the soil frozen hard, plant roots can’t take up water to make up for moisture losses from transpiration and, as a result, dehydration can cause browning or burning of foliage.

  • If your plants get salt spray from the road, burlap may help, but wrap them with a double layer, not a single layer. To avoid having to cover your evergreens, don’t plant them near a road that gets salted, or plant salt-tolerant species such as junipers.
  • Protect broadleaf evergreens such as rhododendron, pieris and laurel from the drying effects of winter sun and wind with an anti-desiccant spray such as Wilt-Pruf, which coats foliage with a protective waxy film. You can also wrap with burlap, if you must.
  • Protect young trees by putting plastic tree guards around the bottom of their trunks to prevent damage from gnawers such as rabbits and mice. Make sure the tree guards go high enough – over the snow line. Always remove them in the spring because it looks better and you don’t have the problem of the guards trapping moisture against the bark in the summer and attracting insects.
  • If rabbits are a big problem in your area, winter care of trees and shrubs should include putting chicken wire cages around the plants they find most tasty.

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