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How Plants Survive the Winter: Damage Prevention Tips

With all of the challenges posed to plants in the winter season, what can you do to protect your plants from the cold?

We’ve got a few tips, some are easy to do, while others require a bit of creativity:

Know what plants are cold tolerant and which aren’t.

Knowing your plant’s hardiness zone will tell you how well your plant can expect to do in different temperature ranges. Most seeds packs, nursery tags and garden stores will provide information on hardiness zones.

Use that information along with the Hardiness Zone Map to find out if your plant is suited to survive the winter.

Annuals can be brought indoors if you have a sunny enough spot to store them.

Place them near windowsills that get the best sun available in your home. This may help you to keep plants that would otherwise be done for the season alive for even longer.

houseplants in pots

When selecting where to install landscape plants or beds, choose spots to place plants that will be sheltered from harsh winds.

You do not want areas that will be shaded out (unless your plants thrive in the shade), but you do want areas that will be protected enough from frequent and harsh gusts. These can include areas blocked from wind by buildings or natural barriers.

You can also build your own simple windbreak using canvas or wood if you live in a particularly open area with high winds.

Don’t promote heavy growth late in the summer season (watering, fertilizing and pruning.)

Fertilizing and watering frequently will signal to your plant that it needs to invest more energy and resources into growing, when it should be slowing down and saving them for surviving the winter. The shock of starting to grow then being hit by the cold is not something your plants should experience.

Water woody plants late in the fall season.

Watering plants, such as evergreens, can be useful to help provide them with enough water to help them survive the winter. This also helps keep the soil from getting too cold too fast.

conifer tree

Many herbaceous/perennial plants can be cut back before the cold hits.

This reduces their above-ground surface area while still leaving the root system intact. The timing of when to do this can vary from plant to plant, so be sure to do a little extra research on your specific planting. Some trees can be pruned before the dead-cold of winter sets in (which also helps reduce snow build up.)

Protect your plants from critters using fencing and other small barriers.

They are often out looking for food and shelter in the cold! This can mean chewing of bark or even digging up of roots and bulbs. Feel free to provide resources to animals, but if you do, do it well away from any areas that could be damaged in your yard, and fence your garden and display beds off to protect them.

Mulch helps keep beds and root systems from changing too much in temperature throughout the winter.

Use a medium-thick (3-6 inches) layer of mulch or compost around trees in a ring shape away from the base of the tree but covering the root system. Garden beds can be covered with about 6 inches of mulch to help keep bulbs and root systems safe.

Young trees that are vulnerable to sun damage can be wrapped.

Use burlap, reflective plastic or commercial tree wraps around the trunk to help prevent issues. These wraps reflect some of the heat and light, preventing them from getting too hot and taking damage from cracking.

Just because it gets cold doesn’t mean you have to worry. With a little prep work you can help shield your trees, shrubs and garden beds from the worst of it, the plants themselves can usually handle it from there. When we stop to think about it, the adaptations plants have to survive outside for the entire winter are incredible.

Whether it’s making their own anti-freeze, having uniquely shaped needle leaves or storing energy supplies underground (as we talked about last week), plants have a variety of different and fascinating ways to battle the conditions of a harsh winter season.  With a little knowledge, we can help give our plants an even better chance of surviving the winter and blooming to life in the spring.

If you’d like to see how we prepare our plants for the winter, drop by the Garden to look at some of our beautiful trees and display beds!

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