How to Help Your Plants Weather a Winter Storm
As any gardener will tell you, plants are like our children and we worry about them all year long. We worry they aren't getting enough water, or that they're getting too much water; we feat they're not eating enough food, or that they're getting sunburnt on the brightest days of the year. But all that worry kicks into high gear when bullying, stormy winter weather is predicted. Will your plants freeze to death or get so wind-whipped they'll disintegrate? That's a very common fear.
No matter how much you might second-guess or even deny unsavory forecasts for blizzards, torrential rains, and driving winds, inclement weather can unfortunately do serious damage to our gardens in the form of broken trunks and branches, frozen tender roots, and even cracked pottery. One-time attacks can be brutal, but repeated harsh conditions can stress and weaken plants beyond repair.
The good news is that with a little knowledge and proper preparation, plants can be protected from a rough winter season. The trick is to always be one step ahead of Mother Nature. That means you'd ideally devise a plan and purchase any supplies you may need long before harsh weather is in the forecast; then, you can quickly put your protection plan in place just before a dramatic storms hits.
It's important to note that how you choose to protect your garden will depend on what zone you live in, what types and sizes of plants are growing in your garden, how healthy your plants already are, and what the meteorologists are predicting for your area. With that said, here are some simple, helpful tips to familiarize yourself with so that your plants will stay warm, safe, and sound through whatever winter conditions may come.
Prep Your Lawn and Garden
Winterizing the yard is essential for it to grow green in the spring. Clean up any plant debris that might make cozy homes for disease and pests. Rake up piles of leaves as they can smother grass and throw them in the compost. Mow your grass for a final time in early to mid-November.
Water Your Landscape
Water your plants well before the frost arrives—especially if it's been a dry season. Healthy, well-hydrated plants will survive the elements better.
Make Sure to Mulch
Spread a three inch layer of mulch over the root area of plants (always keep it at least three inches away from the plants main stalk and lower leaves to avoid rot risk). This protects the roots of plants from cold weather, prevents soil erosion from excess rainfall, and provides nutrients to the soil as the organic matter breaks down.
Shift Potted Plants Inside
Harsh weather in the forecast? It's time to bring all moveable potted plants into the garage, greenhouse, or house—of course, only if you have a dolly, a strong back, or a helpful friend. Be aware that terra cotta pots are notorious for cracking like a dropped watermelon due to temperature fluctuations and the clay's ability to contract and expand. If a potted plant is too cumbersome, or risky to move, cover it like you would a plant growing in the ground. Also, tender or precious plants should be on your moving list.
Stow Outdoor Furniture
When high winds are predicted, clear all outdoor furniture from your yard so it doesn't blow around during a storm. Even a chair could damage a plant. Locking your lawn accoutrements securely inside will prevent harm to your home and sensitive plants should a particularly strong gust come about.
Ready Equipment for Snow Removal
Helpful tools should be placed near the door to your yard or outdoor shed for easy access. Make sure to keep a broom at the ready so you can gently take the snow off more delicate shrubs.
Tend to Your Trees
Before Mother Nature kicks winter in gear, have your trees assessed by a certified arborist. Any dying, diseased, or dead branches from large trees should be removed to avoid the risk of them falling and potentially damaging what's below it. Also any large branches—whether loose, dead, or otherwise—above your house should be removed to be extra safe. These branches are a risk to your home and family if they break free during a storm.
Secure Any Susceptible Shrubbery
Small plants, petite trees, or tender shrubs are more at risk due to brutal weather, but they're easier to protect. Consider staking smaller or newly planted trees or shrubs with three or four stakes pounded into the ground. Then, using heavy twine, tie the plant to the stakes, making sure its loose enough so the truck can move a few inches in the wind. Also consider loosely wrapping vulnerable plants in burlap and tying with strong twine to protect branches from being snapped off from strong winds and to help fend off damaging cold temperatures.
Protect from Snow
Fresh snow looks lovely, but too much can harm plants, garden structures, and containers. And while snow in general has a surprisingly insulating effect—it actually acts as a protective plant blanket against freezing temperatures—it's the wet, thick, and heavy snow that needs addressing. Like mentioned, the best time to protect plants is before snowy flakes fall, and luckily smaller plants are easier to protect with homemade physical barriers. One option is to wrap them in burlap. Another is to use sturdy transparent plastic storage boxes much like a cloche. Pro tip: Weigh down the covering with something heavy like an oversized rock if severe winds are forecasted, and remember to remove protective coverings when danger passes.
DIY Larger Solutions
Larger evergreen shrubs and hedges may need larger solutions, so consider making your own curved tunnel or hoop house with PVC pipe to shed snow.