Protecting Landscape Plants From Cold Damage

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Image of snow on limbThough we in Wilkes County have already had our first frost this year, we are just now approaching the time of year when there is the possibility of plants being seriously damaged by cold, everything from the weight of ice breaking tree limbs, to leaves being “burned” by the alternating warmth of the sun and cold nights.

When you consider what kind of protection your landscape plants may need from the cold weather, remember that the goal is not to keep them warm, as this is impractical. The main goals are protecting them from damaging winds, heavy snow and/or ice, and repeated freezing and thawing, as this is very stressful to the plant.

In some instances, it may be practical to cover small plants with a blanket or tarp, but generally landscape plants are too large for this to be an option. One of the most effective and practical things you can do is to mulch around your plants. This will insulate the roots of the plant in the soil, protecting them from root damage, as well as reduce water loss. This is especially important in newer plantings, though any plant can benefit.

To protect your plants from limb breakage, another realistic way to do this is to wrap the branches together (upward, toward the trunk) with wide tape or cloth. This is going to be possible mainly only with evergreens. Once the chance of ice or snow is over, you then free the branches. Generally, they will relax back into their natural position on their own once freed.

Keep in mind, “Shade plants from direct winter sun, especially early morning sun. Plants that freeze slowly and thaw slowly will be damaged the least. Obviously, the south side of the house with no shade is the worse place for tender plants” (Powell, Kim. “Protecting Plants from Cold Damage”).