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Should I protect my evergreen shrubs from the damage caused by the snow and ice?

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Picture of shrub wrapped in burlap.

Picture of shrub wrapped in burlap (although this shrub has "outgrown its breeches!").

David Beaulieu
Question: Should I protect my evergreen shrubs from the damage caused by the snow and ice?

Flowering shrubs generally shine brightest in spring and summer (when they're in bloom), and many offer vibrant fall color, as well. Notwithstanding the fact that some display noteworthy features in winter (for example, interesting branching patterns, exfoliating bark, or perhaps colorful berries), winter simply isn't "prime time" for them. That makes the decision to protect them from the onslaught of Old Man Winter (assuming you have reason to believe that they are in peril) less difficult: you're not really missing much by covering them up (either by wrapping them in burlap -- as in the picture at right -- or by installing a sheltering structure over them).

But such is not the case with evergreen shrubs....

Answer:

It is precisely during the cold-weather months in the North that evergreen shrubs come into their own. During the summertime, when the deciduous shrubs still have all their leaves, evergreens are frequently a forgotten component of the landscape. They keep a low profile, while their deciduous counterparts have their summer fling and hog all the glory.

But like the tortoise in the Aesop's fable, the motto of the evergreen shrubs is, "Slow and steady wins the race." As the year wears on and the foliage of the flowering shrubs retreats, evergreens reemerge as critical components of your landscaping. In the absence of any competition, they can now grab the spotlight.

Problem is, they are no more immune from winter damage than are the deciduous shrubs (less so, in fact). Thus the dilemma we face. We'd like to protect them from the ravages of winter, but we'd also like to be able to enjoy seeing them when we look out the window on a bleak January day. To protect or not to protect, that is the question.

Or is it such a black-and-white issue, after all? There are actually varying degrees to which you can protect evergreen shrubs. The lesser the degree of protection, the greater the visibility -- but also the greater the chance your shrub will incur damage. By contrast, the greater the degree of protection, the lesser the visibility -- but also the lesser the chance of damage.

Winter Protection for Evergreen Shrubs: a Menu of Options

You have a variety of options from which to select, ranging:

  • From methods that afford the least protection but the greatest visibility
  • To methods that give your bushes the most shelter, but which cover them up so that you cannot enjoy them

In brief, you can offer your evergreen shrubs minimal winter protection by:

  1. Watering them correctly in autumn, to "winterize" them
  2. Spraying anti-dessicants on them

At the other end of the spectrum (i.e., maximal winter protection), your options are:

  1. Wrapping them in burlap
  2. Covering them with sheltering structures

In my full article on protecting plants from winter damage, I elaborate on these methods in much greater detail.

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