As winter pummels the garden and snowdrifts create mini-mountains in your landscape, it’s easy to enjoy the frosty wonderland from inside your home. However, your plants and garden décor may not appreciate the seasonal stress. To protect your garden from harsh winter weather, follow our easy steps to winter-proof your plants and garden goodies.
Winter Is Coming!
If you’ve followed the recommended hardiness zones when selecting perennials for your landscape, they should perform well without much fuss. A blanket of snow provides excellent insulation for perennials! It allows them to rest during the winter and reappear, ready to burst into beauty, in the spring.
While many plants easily survive winter temperatures, sometimes the elements wreak havoc. Cold, dry wind can draw life from broadleaf evergreens. Poorly drained soil may cause root rot. The chill-thaw cycles of winter can cause plants to heave out of the ground.
Particularly if you’re a zone-pusher—growing tender perennials that really don’t belong in your climate, like Helichrysum ‘Amber Cluster’ (zones 8-10) in a zone 7 garden—you’ll need to pay extra attention to weather-proofing your plants. Fortunately, we have some easy-to-implement tips for you!
One of the best investments you can make for your garden is to install a good layer of mulch on your beds. Not only does mulch help protect the crowns of perennials in winter, it also regulates soil temperature and preserves moisture. Using natural mulches, like ground hardwood or shredded leaves, improves less-than-ideal soil. The mulch adds helpful organic matter into beds as it decomposes.
Regulating soil temperature during winter months is important. Mulch helps keep plants dormant, preventing new growth during warm spells in winter. While we all enjoy an occasional balmy day during chilly months, unprotected plants that break dormancy experience winter dieback when temperatures plunge to freezing again.
Mulch also helps prevent soil heaving, which occurs during temperature fluctuations. Freezes and thaws makes the soil expand and contract—or “heave.” Heaving loosens the plant’s roots, pushing it to the surface where the crown and roots may be exposed to freezing temperatures and drying, damaging winds. A thick layer of mulch prevents heaving and maintains soil moisture, protecting the plant from winter’s damaging elements.
In cold climates, a deep blanket of snow also serves as a “mulch,” protecting beds from extreme temperature fluctuations. However, weather is unpredictable and snow melts, so consider adding an alternative mulch to protect your plants.
Transplant or Cover
Have you planted tender perennials that prefer warmer climates? You can treat them as annuals—or attempt to overwinter them with a little extra TLC.
Perhaps you added tropical plants to the garden but live in a zone with freezing temperatures. Consider digging up the plants and rehoming them into containers for the winter. Some tropicals, like hibiscus, perform well inside in containers—but expect them to shed leaves as they acclimate to their new, indoor growing conditions. You can also place the plants in a basement, heated garage, or greenhouse to overwinter them. Thus, allow them to go dormant through winter, and slowly reintroduce them to the garden as temperatures rise in spring. (Better yet—plant hardy Hibiscus ‘Brandy Punch’ in place of tropical hibiscus next year, as it’s hardy to zone 5!)
If you’ve planted perennials in a zone just a bit outside their recommended growing range, try adding extra insulation to protect them. A deep layer of mulch, a garden cloche, a low tunnel, or even the boughs of a spent Christmas tree provide additional protection. Some gardeners place burlap bags over tender plants, then cover them with a thick layer of leaves. Others add incandescent Christmas lights—the older variety that generate warmth–to help overwinter tender plants. Whatever you try, remember to remove any glass or plastic covers on warm days to prevent the sun’s rays from overheating the plant.
Containers provide a perfect way to grow tender perennials, allowing you to enjoy the plants in the garden during warm seasons—and then easily move them indoors or to a protected area when cold days arrive. Or maybe you use containers for annuals or vegetables in the garden. However you enjoy container gardening, remember—not all pots withstand freezing temperatures, so it’s best to move them inside or into a garage or shed during winter.
Porous containers, like those made of clay, absorb moisture and crack when freezing temperatures cause the trapped water to expand. There’s nothing as frustrating as investing in a pretty pot, only to forget it outside during winter—and finding it in pieces in spring.
The same holds true with garden art. Store any glass or ceramic figures, lights, or ornaments before winter arrives to protect your garden décor from damage.
After you winter-proof your garden, your plants will enjoy a long winter’s rest. They will reappear in spring, ready to create a gorgeous garden show! Soon, you’ll be enjoying the beautiful spring blooms of Bergenia ‘Maikind’, Phlox ‘Bubble Gum’, and Dicentra ‘Spring Magic’, with winter’s cold days just a distant memory!
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