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Protecting Plants From Wind Damage in Winter

Use Tree Wrap, Shelters to Guard Against Winds, Snow and Ice

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Photo of commercial shrub shelter.

If you don't have natural materials at hand, and if you have just a small shrub to protect, you may choose to build an A-frame shrub shelter like this one.

David Beaulieu

How do you protect plants from wind damage in the yard during winter? Using tree wrap or shelters are two possible options, both of which I explore below. You'll also learn what steps to take to winterize your perennial beds; mulch can come to their rescue as long as you know how to use it properly (see Page 3).

Shrub Shelters That Guard Against Snow and Ice Damage

Most deciduous flowering shrubs, unlike their evergreen counterparts, provide little visual interest in winter. Yet these shrubs can be damaged by heavy snows or ice storms that snap their branches. To avoid such plant damage, you can build or buy a shelter within which to house your flowering shrubs for the winter. Since most of them provide little visual interest in winter anyway, you have little to lose by tucking them out of sight under a shelter.

You have three main options for providing deciduous shrubs with shelter:

  1. You can build shrub shelters out of natural materials.
  2. You can build an A-frame (or "snow frame") out of store-bought lumber.
  3. You can buy a snow frame (available at some hardware stores, etc.).

Shelters come not only in various sizes, but also in various shapes and materials. But for all such shelters, you're essentially building a framework that will support a "roof"; the roof will keep excessive snow and ice off your shrubs. In my tutorial on winter protection with shrub shelters, for example, I illustrate how to build a rectangular protective structure with rustic poles, to be covered with pine boughs for roofing. This type of housing for your shrubs is made completely from natural materials that can be gathered for free, if you live in the country.

But shelters may also assume an "A"-shape (see picture, above right) or a tepee shape, both of which shed snow and ice well. Furthermore, as an alternative to rustic poles, the building material may be lumber or metal. But besides the fact that you have to buy such materials, I don't like the look of them, personally. In addition, it would be difficult to fit most A-frames over large shrubs.

Snow, Ice and Wind Damage: How to Use Tree Wrap, Shelters to Prevent Winter Burn, Breakage

Unlike most deciduous shrubs, evergreen shrubs are the cornerstone of visual interest in the winter landscape, and admiring their beauty can lift your spirits while you're snow shoveling. Therefore, offering them winter protection similar to that suggested for deciduous shrubs is a hard sell, since the shelters mentioned obscure the plants.

Evergreen shrubs can, however, suffer injury during winter due to the harsh conditions, especially wind damage. For this reason, some people do protect their prized evergreen shrubs in winter, even though it ruins the visual display.

To protect evergreen shrubs from snow and ice, you can purchase commercial tree wraps. The tree wraps with which I am most familiar are made of burlap netting, available at local hardware stores. Do not confuse this product with the "tree wraps" used to prevent sun scald on trunks.

How do you use tree wrap? One method is to bind up a shrub, mummy-style. By wrapping plants with tree wrap in this manner, their limbs are pulled in toward their trunks and supported, so that they won't snap under the strain of snow or ice loads.

But there's another way to use tree wrap. A bigger challenge than snow and ice for evergreen shrubs is presented by the drying winds of winter. Dwarf Alberta spruces and any newly planted evergreens are highly susceptible to such wind damage, so they should be protected.

While the "mummy-style" method discussed above can also be used to protect plants from wind damage, you have another option, as well. You can minimize wind damage to evergreen shrubs by building a shelter around them to fend off the winds. Being a windbreak, this shelter differs from the type mentioned above for deciduous shrubs: the emphasis is on the sides, not the "roof," because its purpose is to keep wind out, not snow and ice. If you do not receive a lot of snow and ice where you live and find this method easier, by all means use it.

The project begins by building a wire cage around the shrub. To build the wire cage, first secure 4 poles into the ground around the shrub, forming a rectangle. Then attach chicken wire to the poles, stretching it from pole to pole. When you're done building this structure, fasten burlap to its sides. The burlap will reduce the shrub's exposure to drying winds. Protecting evergreens from the wind in this way can minimize the moisture loss their leaves or needles suffer and help save them from what is termed, "winter burn."

An "anti-dessicant" (anti-drying agent) can also be sprayed on certain plants to reduce their susceptibility to drying wind damage. For instance, I use an anti-dessicant on my boxwood hedge. Apply in late fall, but before freezing temperatures settle in for good.

Warding Off Wind Damage in Advance: Fall Watering

If you wish to keep your evergreen shrubs "on display" during the winter, there is still some winter protection that you can afford them. But this winter protection is provided in advance, in the form of a proper watering regimen during the fall. This regimen applies as much to trees as it does to shrubs, and as much to deciduous specimens as to evergreens.

On Page 2, let's have a closer look at the proper watering regimen for trees and shrubs in fall....

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