Lee Valley Tools Gardening Newsletter
Vol. 1, Issue 1
November 2006
 
Protecting Trees and Shrubs in Winter
 

Avoiding Branch Breakage continued
Tall upright evergreens such as cedars and junipers can be protected from splitting apart under heavy snow by tying them up with garden twine. Start by driving a stake (make sure itís slightly taller than the plant) into the ground beside it. Beginning at the bottom, wind the twine around both the stake and the shrub so that snow will not force branches downward.

Restraint may not be necessary if you keep the interior of upright evergreens free of their own detritus. Yearly, gently smack small evergreens with a gloved hand Ė or larger ones with the flat side of a corn broom Ė to dislodge dead needles that clog up inside branches. Regular spring-cleaning of this kind opens up the treesí insides so that air, light and moisture penetrate the plant canopy. A looser shrub allows snow to fall through its branches, rather than accumulating on branch tips.

Protecting the Roots
Winter can wreak havoc with your trees and shrubs at their root level. As long as there is plenty of snow on the ground, plants are well anchored. However, with inadequate snow cover, bare soil is subject to frequent cycles of freezing and thawing throughout the winter months. Moist soil alternately expands and contracts around plant roots, causing them to tear and even heave out of the ground.

Wood chips, shredded leaves or compost are some suitable winter mulches. Organic mulch wonít keep roots warm, but it will preserve more even soil temperatures. In my experience, itís not necessary to remove it in the spring. Itís a good soil amendment as it breaks down and it preserves soil moisture and prevents wide temperature fluctuations, which can bake, break or heave roots, depending on the season.

Where and how mulch is used matters. After improving the siteís soil according to the needs of the plants you intend to grow, apply at least two to three inches of aged wood chips, compost, or shredded leaves on top of the soil around the plant. The fluffier the mulch material, the thicker the layer can be, but if itís too thick or heavy, it may suffocate the plant. Leave a four-inch space between the mulch edge and the crown of the shrub or the base of the tree trunk. Donít let mulch touch plant bark Ė constant moisture here encourages stem rot. Extend mulch out to at least the drip line, which is located at the perimeter of the plantís branch extension. (This is where most of the plantís fine feeder roots are situated in the soil.)

 
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