How to Prevent Winter Damage

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By the time you are reading this article, the calendar will have turned a page to October. As typical in Northern Ontario, fall weather has been all over the map! For the first time in many years, we had a September frost. Last week we had a few summer-like days.

Although wrapping and covering trees and shrubs should wait until we get consistently cold weather in late October or early November, you should gather supplies now, so you are prepared when the weather turns.

Broadleaf evergreens such as rhododendrons, holly, euonymus, and boxwood need a blanket of snow to insulate foliage for the winter. Low-lying varieties usually do well in our area, but growth that sticks up above the snow can be harmed in winter. You can prepare now to help prevent this damage.

Before the ground freezes, put stakes around vulnerable plants. Have burlap or Arbotex on hand to wrap around the stakes to provide winter insulation. *As a word of caution, next spring unwrap on an overcast day to prevent sun scorch damage. 

Arbotex is a white, felt synthetic blanket that can be re-used each year. In spring, simply rinse Arbotex off, hang it to dry and fold it up for storage. You can also keep it on hand for covering tender plants from spring frost.

Most evergreens won’t need to be wrapped if you have chosen hardy varieties, but Dwarf Alberta Spruce often burns above the snow line. A wrap of Arbortex will help prevent this problem.

Upright juniper and cedar are prone to splaying open when we get loads of heavy, wet snow. Use an open mesh called Winter Wrap, for pulling foliage in tightly. It will prevent this type of damage.

If you have a problem with deciduous shrubs splaying open, you can always use twine to pull the branches together. Once the branches are well secured, they will help support each other.

If you like to use a wooden teepee to cover evergreens, you must use one large enough to allow for a six-inch space between the wood and foliage. Foliage that touches the wood will freeze and thaw numerous times over the winter as sun warms the wood and condensation forms on the inside. This cycle kills foliage. Be sure to increase the size of the teepee as evergreens grow so air space is maintained each season.

If you have a hedge that is exposed to cold north winds or salt spray from a major roadway, set up a burlap or Arbortex screen. Pound tall stakes into the ground about a foot in front of the hedge. Staple protective fabric to the windward side of the stakes to create a barrier.

Tender roses, such as Hybrid Teas, Grandiflora and Floribunda varieties, need protection from northern winters. In late fall, place a rose collar around the plant, secure it in place and fill it full of compost or soil. The soil will freeze solid and stay frozen until spring. (It is the repeated freezing and thawing that kills tender roses.) Hardy shrub roses do not require winter protection.

If you have a hybrid climbing rose, mound soil as high on the canes as you can and prune away the remaining length. Exposed canes will die over the winter.

White spiral tree guards should be put around the trunks of tender young trees to prevent rodents from chewing tasty bark in winter, but don’t leave the guard on past spring! It provides a perfect haven for insects to hide.

If you have a young tree that may get frost cracks, wrap the trunk from the ground up to the first set of branches with Tree Wrap or strips of Arbotex. In early spring, on a sunny day, sap rises from the roots. As the sun sets, temperatures fall quickly and sap freezes, expands and vertical cracks develop in tender bark. Wrap insulates the trunk from temperature swings. Maple trees are especially prone to this injury.

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About Me

I began my journey in horticulture in 1982 after graduating from the Humber College Landscape Technician program. At that time, I lead a talented crew of landscapers, taught evening courses in horticulture and had my own landscape design and consulting business. Then I ventured into the garden centre world. I’m lucky enough to be leading the friendly and knowledgeable team at New North Greenhouses. 

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