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How do I protect trees and shrubs over winter?
Trees and shrubs often dry out during winter and in many cases this leads to considerable damage to the plants. To prevent drying, water trees and shrubs well in the fall and mulch the soil around the plants to help conserve moisture. Mulch will also moderate soil temperatures and allow roots more time to grow. This is especially important for newly planted trees and shrubs. Mulching will also prolong dormancy in the spring reducing the chance of late spring frost injury to leaves and flowers. Suitable materials for mulching are compost, leaf mold, wood chips, straw, shredded bark, and aged sawdust. The mulch should be coarse enough not to blow away and should not be touching the trunk of the tree. Do not add more than a 2 to 3-inch layer.
The trunks of thin-barked young trees such as maples can be damaged when the winter sun warms the bark of the tree. The bark on the warm sunny side of the trunk expands, while the bark on the cold shady side does not. As a result, the bark may rupture and split as a result of the temperature differential. To prevent this damage wrap the trunks with paper or plastic tree wraps in late fall and remove them in the spring. Another method is to paint the trunks with white latex paint so sunlight is reflected and the trunk does not heat up. It is especially important to protect young trees, but as trees get older and develop a thicker bark, protection is not needed.
Because evergreen plants hold their needles year round, water loss from their foliage in winter can cause the plants to dry out. As a result, they often turn brown. To prevent this, water evergreen plants thoroughly before the ground freezes in October and November, then mulch around the plant. An antidessicant sprayed on the needles may also be used. It will reduce water loss from the needles in the winter. Follow label directions for timing of sprays and recommended plants
If you have newly planted evergreens give them extra protection and monitor closely throughout the winter. You may even need to water some evergreens during the winter if the soil thaws and becomes dry.
Trees and shrubs should also be protected from rodents. First clean up any fruit on the ground to remove their food source. Then, place hardware cloth or plastic spiral protectors around the trunks of small trees such as flowering crabs, cherries or plums to provide a barrier from rodents which will gnaw on the bark. Also check to make sure your mulch is not touching the trunks of trees and shrubs. If you need to add winter mulch, wait until several cold days have passed and rodents have made nests elsewhere. Placed too early, a nice bed of mulch may make an enticing home for rodents.