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Tuesday, September 30, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 12/26/2012

Plants still need care in winter

BY KELLY HEIBREDER
BLADE COLUMNIST

A winter storm is expected, so you will need to find the snow shovel and fire up the snow blower. Finally, we get some of the white stuff to stick around. The ground is frozen and it is time to really get those plants protected for the rest of the winter.

Freeze and refreeze

The most common way plants suffer damage over the winter is when they thaw out, then refreeze. This shows up in the spring when the new foliage stays yellow, rather than turns dark green. You might lose blooms from early blooming plants like magnolia, lilac, dogwood, and forsythia if we get zapped with ice before spring. If you look at these plants closely, their buds have already started to sprout and Jack Frost can cause some winter damage.

Another common way our plants suffer is from the wind. The wind dries out the foliage and can actually give them chapped leaves. Sustained winds can wick the moisture right out of the leaves. When spring rolls around, you will see wind damage revealed. The tips of one side of an entire bush might be brittle and yellow. Those are sure signs that the damage was caused by the wind.

But the key to your winter protection is actually to keep it frozen. If we get a quick warm spell in the early spring, the warmer temperatures will thaw the soil and the roots of your plant. Your perennials are used to the cold, so they can handle the frozen ground. But the roots can be damaged if they thaw, then freeze again.

Frosty fixes

The best way to fend off Jack Frost is to start with protecting plants before the damage starts. Early bloomers would be less likely to feel his frosty touch if you cover them up. Find a light blanket or burlap and use it as a protective covering for your shrubs.

Burlap can be easily wrapped around small shrubs. Go around the shrub a couple of times to act as a shield from the wind. Be careful not to wrap it too tightly. You will want the shrub to be able to move if it gets piled with snow.

Larger shrubs or fragile shrubs might need some help holding the burlap. Place stakes on three or four corners of your plant. They should be at least as tall as the shrub and placed as far out as the branches on your plant. Use this as the framework for your burlap and wrap it tightly around the stakes at least two times. Secure it tightly with twine or fabric staples.

The burlap will block the wind for large shrubs. But there is another way to give your plants some protection. We put chap stick on our lips, and there is a waxy spray you can buy for the leaves of your plant. It helps hold in the moisture, but needs to be reapplied a few times before spring.

Protecting plants from thawing and refreezing is really easy. Just cover them with more mulch, and the trick is to do it after they are already frozen. This will keep them frozen. You can dump an extra bag of mulch on them or cover them with the extra branches from your fresh Christmas tree. Then, in the spring, easily pull the boughs off the plants. If you used mulch, just spread it around and add another layer in the spring.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from my family to yours.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at getgrowing@gmail.com.



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