Winter Garden Damage – What Now?
Winter can offer obstacles for our gardens. Cold, snow, ice, freeze/thaw cycles, wind, salt from treating roads and sidewalks are a few that spring to mind. Most of those obstacles can be readily overcome, but some are more challenging.
Cold, Snow, Freeze/Thaw Cycles – In Other Words, Normal Winter For Cold Winter Climates
What does suited to the location mean? It means if you have a place where the wind tends to come whistling through the garden, don’t plant something that is susceptible to wind damage. Put that plant in a spot where it is protected from wind. If a plant doesn’t like wet feet, don’t plant it in the low, wet spot in your garden. Putting each plant in a spot where it can thrive leads to good plant health. And healthy plants are much better able to survive adverse winter conditions than unhealthy plants
Unusually Cold Temperatures
After the Cold has Passed
Annuals – if the foliage is brown and or mushy, remove it and compost or discard it. Plan on replacing your plants in spring.
Herbaceous Perennials –Remove brown and mushy foliage. However, do NOT assume that the plants are dead. Even if you are used to the plants remaining green throughput the winter, they may not be dead. Many perennials are “root hardy” which means that although the foliage and stems are dead, the plant will regrow from the root system. In spring, be lazy and wait a bit. Give the “dead” plants time to regrow from the roots before replacing them with new plant material.
Shrubs – Do nothing. This is another great time to be a lazy gardener. Resist the temptation to help and just wait for spring. See what new growth emerges and prune after you can see the true damage to your plants. If there are obviously broken branches, you can remove them, but other than that – hands off. Pruning now could encourage new growth too early, which can harm the plant. Branches that may appear to be dead, may not be. Once spring gets here and the shrub leafs out with new growth, you will then know for sure which parts of the shrub are dead and can be safely removed.
Ice is pretty much the cruelest thing that can happen to your garden in winter. The sheer weight can be devastating. You are going to want to try and rush out and help your plants. Resist that urge. Do NOT try to help. Take a deep breath and procrastinate. Do not knock ice off branches; channel your grade school days and keep your hands to yourself. Allow the ice to naturally melt. The branches beneath the ice will be brittle, trying to remove the ice is most likely going to lead to more damage to the plant, not help.
The rest can be pruned to shape, if needed or if you want to. This may mean sacrificing blooms on spring blooming shrubs. If you don’t mind a somewhat bedraggled shrub in your landscape, wait until after the spring blooming shrubs flower and then prune to shape.
Trees: Remove downed branches or trees, if you can safely do so, or hire someone with experience to take care of this task. For broken branches and additional pruning, it is best to hire a certified arborist to assess and service the plants. Trees are a long term investment and much harm can be done by accident. Let the professionals handle it.
You may already recognize that salt really isn’t all that great for plants. Salt applied by road crews or on sidewalks by homeowners can end up in nearby garden beds. There are a couple of ways to deal with this issue.
If you can reasonably assume that salt will be applied regularly, consider choosing plants that can withstand a bit of salt (yes, we have circled back around to Right Plant, Right Place). Internet searches will yield good results for plants lists.
If salt is unlikely to be an issue, then you may prefer not to limit your plant selection. The best way to deal with an unusual application of salt to plants is water. Once the temps warm up and snow cover melts, lightly spray off plants to wash off any salt that might be on foliage. Then in early spring, water the affected areas heavily to wash the salts out of the main root zone of the plants. You want to soak at least 6 inches of soil. This will allow the majority of roots to reside in soil where the salt has been flushed out.