How to best protect tender shrubs in winter

How to best protect tender shrubs in winter

Shrubs are a key part of the landscape for many homeowners, providing texture, shade and beauty in the garden. To shield your shrubs from winter’s extreme cold, extend their hardiness zone range and protect them against the freezing winds that do the most damage, here’s how to give them a sturdy shelter.

Location is key to shrub protection

The first consideration before planting a shrub is to choose a sheltered position, which will go a long way to protecting it from the elements.

  • On the south side of a high wall, next to a fence or behind a dense evergreen hedge are good places to plant shrubs.
  • Shade-tolerant shrubs will also be protected from the worst winds if they are planted amongst trees.

Use natural materials to insulate

The shelter you provide may not always be sufficient for your shrubs. During severe cold spells, tender shrubs will need to be blanketed with a material that offers additional protection from wind and cold.

Insulating materials

Some natural materials that work well include:

  • Straw
  • Peat moss
  • Coarse sand
  • Burlap cloth
  • Boughs of needle evergreens

Evergreen boughs from discarded Christmas trees can also be used in some regions.

Sheltering your shrubs

It only requires a few minutes to provide your shrubs with a cocoon of warmth.

  • Toward the end of autumn, spread a 15 to 25 cm (six- to 10-inch) layer of straw, peat moss or even some coarse sand around the base of your shrubs. Leave it there until spring.
  • Plants that regularly produce shoots from the base, such as roses, must also be protected in this vital area.
  • With larger shrubs, snugly wrap burlap material around the branches and tie it with twine. Don’t bind the shrub too tight, though, as this could damage their branches.

To protect wall shrubs and vines

Shrubs and vines growing adjacent to (or actually on) walls can be protected by using removable “mats” made of chicken wire and straw.

  • Simply “sandwich” the straw tightly between two lengths of metal chicken wire, readily available at your local home improvement centre.
  • You’ll want a 10- to 12-cm (about 5 inches) thick layer of straw.
  • To keep everything in place, join the edges of the chicken wire sections by twisting the wires together.
  • Wear gloves and eye protection because chicken wire can be pointy and sharp.
  • In bad weather, simply stand the mats in front of the plants to provide a blanket of warmth.

To protect free-standing shrubs

The same idea (i.e., straw mats between chicken wire) will work for small, free-standing shrubs.

  • Shape each mat into a cylinder and stand it on end like a collar around the shrub. You can top the cylinder with a lid of similar construction.

An alternative to straw mats is to make a teepee from about six bamboo canes tied together at the top.

  • Loop string around the tepee halfway down and stuff it with evergreen boughs or straw.
  • For additional protection, cover the teepee with a sheet of burlap.
  • Any sturdy sticks picked up from raking your lawn or strong branches from trees you pruned in the garden can be cut to length and used instead of bamboo.

To prevent evergreens from getting crushed by snow sliding off the roof, place strong wooden frames over them. Old wooden pallets are suitable.

Winter weather can be unkind to shrubs. What’s more, the loss of a single shrub plant to cold temperatures will surely leave a hole in your garden landscape. That’s why it’s important to ensure your shrubs are protected against the harsh elements this winter.


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