Protect Plants from Winter Problems

Now that November is here, we can begin to prepare our plants for the winter conditions. Some of those preparations are to get plants ready for cold weather and some are to protect them from wildlife.

My beautiful picture

Wildlife Damage

During the winter months we can see plant damage from deer, rabbits, and voles. Deer can chew off the ends of small twigs and bucks can rub their antlers on the trunk of smaller trees. Rabbits can also chew on smaller plants, sometimes chewing small plants off at ground level. Rabbits and voles can also gnaw on the thin bark of our young trees to feed on the green, inner bark areas. There is no cure once it happens, so it is best to protect our plants prior to damage.

Rabbit Protection, Lancaster Co. Ext
Rabbit Protection Fence, Photo from Lancaster County Extension

Exclusion is the best defense but is sometimes a difficult task. There are fences that can be utilized but they need to be at least 8 feet tall for deer damage. Rabbits can be managed with a fence that is 2 feet tall. Voles can be controlled by removing tall grass and weeds from around the trunk of trees and by avoiding mulch layers deeper than three inches around trees. Placing hardware cloth around tree trunks will also prevent vole feeding. The commercial spray repellants available for deer or rabbits are not very effective and would need to be reapplied often.

Winter Mulch

Winter mulch can be applied now, or within a few weeks when temperatures are consistently dropping down to the twenties each night. Winter mulch is the heavier layer of mulch we apply to herbaceous perennial plants and strawberries to keep them from having temperature fluxes throughout the winter. Any plant that may be prone to frost heaving, the plant being pushed up out of the soil by a constant freeze and thaw condition, or plants that were just planted this fall could also benefit from winter mulching. This mulch can be up to four inches deep, which is deeper than we usually advise but is needed for winter protection. It is better to use coarse wood chips or leaves for winter mulch rather than grass.

Winter Watering

Winter watering is essential in dry winter years. Winter desiccation commonly occurs on evergreen types of trees and shrubs. All trees are still transpiring, or losing water, throughout the winter months, evergreen trees are transpiring at a higher rate than deciduous trees. Winter desiccation occurs when the amount of water lost is greater than the amount of water the evergreen takes in throughout the winter months. The damage from winter desiccation is brown needles out on the ends of branches. However, the damage from winter desiccation will not usually show up in our trees until early spring, so they will stay green through the winter. Drought effects can damage deciduous trees as well. Especially newly planted deciduous trees. All of our trees may need to be watered throughout the winter months if natural precipitation or snow cover is absent.

Winter watering should occur during the day on days when the temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or above and is only necessary 1-2 times per month until spring. It is a good idea to test for soil moisture with a long screwdriver or soil probe prior to watering to determine if watering is necessary. If the screwdriver goes into the soil easily up to 18 inches, watering is not necessary. However, if pushing the screwdriver into the soil is very difficult, watering would be necessary.

Tips for Fall Plant Protections

Protect plants for winter, blog

Fall has officially arrived. There have already been frost advisories for the western part of the state, so it won’t be long until frosts occur here. It is at this time that you need to think about care for your plants to protect them through the winter. Here is a ‘To Do’ list to prepare your lawn and garden for winter.

Care of newly planted trees should be considered. If it is a thin barked tree, add a tree wrap to protect it from sunscald. Sunscald is a condition that occurs during the winter with the rapid cool down at night of the cells in the trunk of the tree. The warm up can occur in the winter on warmer days but when night comes, those cells freeze and burst, causing damage to the trunk. Tree wraps will help protect young trees from this condition, but only leave the wrap on during the winter months and allow the trunk to be opened up during the summer to avoid damage from insects and disease.

tree wrapping
Tree Wrap

Young trees would also benefit from a fence around the tree to protect it from damage from rabbits and voles during the winter months. During the winter, these critters chew on the bark of our trees which causes wounds and, in some cases, girdles the tree leading to eventual death. A 2-foot high fence of chicken wire will be sufficient to protect your tree from both of these animals. Make sure the fence is dug into the ground a couple of inches so the voles can’t get under it.

Winter mulch can be applied when temperatures are consistently dropping down to the twenties each night. Winter mulch is the heavier layer of mulch we apply to plants like chrysanthemums and strawberries to keep them from having temperature fluxes in the soil they are planted in. Any plant that may be prone to frost heaving, the plant being pushed up out of the soil by a constant freeze and thaw condition. Plants that were just planted this fall could also benefit from winter mulching. This mulch can be up to twelve inches deep, which is much deeper than we usually advise but is needed for winter protection. It is better to use coarse wood chips, straw, or leaves for winter mulch rather than grass. Be sure to level the mulch back down to 2-3 inches in the spring.

Clean up all spent leaves of annual and perennial plants. Remove the dead plant material and compost it or dispose of it. If there was a problem with a disease or insect problem in the plant this summer, it would be best to dispose of it to reduce the problem with that insect or disease next year. Be sure to wait until the plants have turned brown in the fall before removing this plant material to allow them all the time available to build and store up sugars for next spring.

Now is the time to dig up your summer bulbs to prepare them for winter storage. Plants such as gladiolus, cannas, begonias, caladium, elephant ear and dahlia need to be dug up in the fall and stored indoors over the winter. They need to be dug up prior to a hard frost, or shortly after the first frost. Once the bulbs are removed from the ground, they need to be cleaned off, removing the leaves as you clean, and cure or dry them for 2-3 weeks. Then place the bulbs in crates or boxes, allowing for air flow. Store them throughout the winter in a cool, dark location such as a basement. Check the bulbs periodically through the winter to ensure no bulbs are starting to rot or mold.  If any do start to rot or mold, discard them immediately.