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Prepare Your Woody Plants For Winter

The woody plants on your property are, arguably, the most valuable plants in your landscape. Trees and shrubs are big, so we assume they’re strong. Some shrubs seem to bounce back, almost miraculously, from trauma. This makes us think that nature takes care of our trees and shrubs.

There are those who point to forest plants as examples of self-sustaining plants and use that as an excuse for not performing certain maintenance tasks. The truth is, however, that individual forest plants aren’t self-sustaining. They depend on the forest ecosystem to sustain them. There’s great synergy in the forest.

Landscape plants do not have the same support system as forest plants. They often stand alone and defenseless in the yard. Shrubs usually have neighboring shrubs in the same planting bed but they were selected for their aesthetics rather than their synergy with surrounding plants. That’s why landscape plants need our tender, loving care.

Few landscape plants are true species. Most are cultivars or varieties that were bred in a nursery for specific traits. They are about as close to a forest plant as your dog is to a wolf or your cat to a cougar.

That’s why we need to prepare our woody landscape plants for winter. I discussed in previous blogs about adding extra mulch to protect plant roots from temperature swings and wrapping trees to protect them from bitter wind, hungry wildlife and road salt spray.

If you’ve applied anti-desiccant to your evergreens in the past, you know how this treatment protects plants from winter burn. I swear by anti-desiccant. If you only have a few evergreens (both broadleaf and needled), you can purchase this product in spray bottles at garden stores. The most common brand is Wilt-Pruf. If you have lots of plants that need anti-desiccant, it’s more economical to call us. We buy it in bulk and one of our technicians will apply it with a backpack sprayer.

Evergreens don’t go completely dormant in winter like deciduous trees and shrubs. Their natural functions just slow down. When the ground freezes, the plants can’t absorb water and nutrients from the soil but they still transpire water through their leaves as a byproduct of photosynthesis. The wind often blows the water droplets off the leaves before the plant can reabsorb and reuse the water. This dries out the leaves and they turn brown. Anti-desiccant is a clear, wax-like material that coats the leaves to prevent the wind from blowing the water off them while still letting sunlight reach the leaves.

Finally, your trees should be inspected each fall to be sure they can withstand the rigors of winter. This inspection will determine whether the tree will be safe while being battered by wind and coated with ice and snow. The inspection will also identify weak, broken, dead or dying branches that should be pruned before they can cause personal injury or property damage. We will also check for any root damage, insects, diseases or other hazards.

Going back to the pet analogy above, you are responsible for the behavior of your landscape plants just as you are for the behavior of your pets.

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