Protecting Your Garden Trees and Plants from Harsh Winter Weather

shrub with red berries in snow - protect trees and plants from winter

Winters in Canada can be harsh, with the average temperature easily dropping to 5°F. In fact temperatures as low as -40°F are extremely common, especially considering the wind chill. This weather can make it difficult for trees and plants to survive.

You can, however, prepare your garden for winter so that your trees and plants will be well protected. You will need to look after the roots of trees, especially if they are exposed to the elements. Shrubs and bushes can be covered, and potted plants, such as herbs, moved out of the winds. 

Wrapping Small Trees

Wrapping trees for winter is a simple and cost-effective way of protecting them from cold winds and snow. Young deciduous trees in particular—trees such as maple, aspen and poplar—will benefit enormously from wrapping over the winter months. You can use a special tree wrap – these are usually made from Kraft paper or burlap. This will protect the bark from the wind and sunscald, but does not adhere to the trunk, causing damage.

You can also get tree protectors. These are particularly useful if you have a problem with deer damaging your trees. Unfortunately, many of these are made from plastic, vinyl or PVC, so look for options made from recycled plastic or more sustainable materials. All you will need to do is loosely wrap the tree from the base to the tip and use twine to secure the tree wrap. Make sure that the wrap isn’t too tight so that the tree has breathing room. You should remove the tree wrap as soon as spring comes, or it can become moist and damp underneath, causing mould or trunk disease. 

Protecting Tree Roots

If your tree roots aren’t protected, then young trees will struggle to survive over the winter months. As any tree surgeon will tell you , they need to be strong enough to get the nutrients that they need from the soil or the tree will be more susceptible to damage.

At the end of fall, spread a heavy mulch around the area at the base of the tree—you need to make sure that any exposed roots are completely covered. You should then place burlap sacking over the mulch, securing it to the ground with tent pegs. This will give the roots of the tree an extra beneficial layer of warmth. 

Potted Herbs

basil growing in mug by window - protecting trees and plants from winter

There are many varieties of potted herb that simply won’t survive the Canadian winters outside. These include Mediterranean varieties such as basil, lemon thyme and cilantro. If you can’t bring these herbs indoors, then make sure that you harvest the leaves for drying before the winter comes.

Rosemary, oregano and sage should survive outside, but you should move the pots out of the wind or up against a wall to protect them as much as possible. Chives and lemon verbena should be cut right back—these will grow back happily in the spring. Don’t worry if mint and lemon balm look bedraggled in the winter months or appear to wither. These are hardy plants that will grow even in poor soil conditions and seem to thrive on neglect. 

Looking after Shrubs

Don’t be tempted to feed shrubs with any kind of nitrogen-rich fertilizer too close to winter, or they will stimulate a sappy growth. You’re best simply mulching around the base of the shrub and putting down some green manure to reduce leaching. This will be enough to help shrubs retain nutrients and to reduce compaction and soil erosion.

Young shrubs in your yard will benefit from being staked in the winter months to help them stay upright. Wrapping shrubs is simple—you can use horticultural fleece tied around with garden twine. You should do this before the first sign of frost. 

Additional Protection

Before winter, it is important to deal with any drainage problems in the backyard. If you have wet soils, then shallow-rooted or young trees will be far more likely to be uprooted in strong winds. If your yard is particularly cold and windy, then it is a good idea to plant windbreaks to protect your plants and shrubs. Netting or woven hurdles will make an adequate windbreak if there are no established hedges. 

It is important to protect your trees and plants against the weather in the winter months. You will then find that they thrive with new growth in the spring.

Feature image: David Bartus; Image 1:

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