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Winter Plant Protection

Q. Please advise on special winter protection for my garden plants.

A. Many winter injuries common to plants in the Chicago area can be avoided with a few precautionary practices:

  • Since evergreens continue to lose moisture through their needles all winter long, they need a healthy supply of water in the root zone to avoid winter burn. During short periods of winter thaw, consider watering all evergreens, especially the shallow-rooted, broadleaved rhododendrons, azaleas and boxwoods. Antitranspirant sprays can be applied to susceptible plants not only before winter begins but also again in periods of thaw.
  • When shoveling your driveway or sidewalk, distribute snow loads equitably around small plants.
  • Deer browse twigs, buds and many evergreens. Deer repellents are numerous and must be rotated constantly for best success.
  • Before you prune out any brown winterkill areas on evergreens, wait until the new growth has come in.
  • Try not to walk repeatedly on frozen turf.
  • When small woody plants or perennials heave out of the ground during periods of freeze/thaw, gently press them back into the ground with your hands—don’t stomp on the earth around them.
  • If you haven’t already done so, mulch garden beds with evergreen boughs, several inches of healthy shredded leaves or compost—only when the ground has frozen hard and if there is no snow cover.
  • Wrap the trunks of young trees with protective wrap (and remove it as soon as spring arrives) to lessen the damage caused by temperature fluctuations.
  • Monitor trees for animal damage, carefully remove snow from shrubs and protect plants from salt spray.