Updated March 23, 2023
Avid gardeners are eagerly awaiting the advent of spring, itching to dig their fingers back into the soil. Unfortunately, although Jack Frost will soon disappear from our lives for another nine months, he may leave behind some winter garden damage behind as an unpleasant reminder of his recent stay.
Before you can get on with the business of planting and weeding, you’ll need to survey your garden for damage and make the necessary repairs.
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Winter damage is inevitable, but savvy gardeners anticipate the potential problems and know how to compensate to ensure that their plants, trees and shrubs continue to thrive. In fact, skilled gardeners take preventive steps before winter sets in. In general, watering your plants until the ground freezes in autumn is one way to mitigate damage, and mulching the plants well is another.
It’s difficult to assess damage until the temperature rises and plants come back to life. During the winter, plants store energy in their roots and stems and the release of this energy during the warmth of spring causes flowers and leaves to develop. If, instead, your plants are brown and lifeless, winter may have killed parts of them.
Let’s look at some of the common winter concerns and the remedies you can employ to keep your garden healthy.
Don’t be in a hurry to clear away branches downed during a snowstorm, unless they pose a danger. By waiting until winter is drawing to a close to do your pruning, you can stimulate new growth. Cut back branches and twigs to within .65 centimetres of a live bud, or to the branch collar for the nearest live branch.
If too many branches have been broken, consider replacing your plant. Next year, consider removing partially dead or weak branches before the onset of winter to make trees and bushes less susceptible.
If heavy snow accumulates on live branches, take a broom and knock it off with an upward motion. You’ll prevent heavy snow from weighing branches down and causing them to crack.
When the temperature fluctuates so that the soil freezes, then thaws, plants with shallow roots, such as azaleas, can get pushed out of the soil. Their roots don’t have much contact with the soil and they can be dried out by the wind.
If the soil forces the plant out of the ground, replant it as soon as the soil thaws. If it’s a small plant, you may have success pushing it back into the ground with your fingers. Next year, consider using mulch around the base of the plants, because it helps maintain a more constant temperature at the base of the plants.
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Road salt is a major enemy of plant life, even though it works wonders on surfaces like a driveway. Dissolved salts can damage the plants themselves and affect the soil structure so that it becomes more compact. The soil change makes accessing the nutrients and water in the soil more difficult.
Keep salt-laden snow away from your plants and trees and don’t let runoff reach their roots. Consider planting salt-tolerant evergreens or hedges to buffer your grounds from the roadside.
If you can’t prevent runoff from reaching your plants, treat them in early spring by flushing the affected areas with five centimetres of water over two to three hours. Repeat this treatment after a few days. If salt spray reaches your plants during the winter, rinse the foliage and branches that it affects and repeat the treatment in early spring.
Winter winds can dry out leaves on evergreens. Some varieties turn brown or bronze when exposed to the harsh winds, an effect that can be confused with a fungal disease. Generally, their normal colour returns in the spring when new growth begins, unless the harsh conditions are severe or prolonged.
In such situations, water is removed from needles faster than it can replace it with water from the soil and they dry out and fall off. The leaves of broadleaf evergreens, such as rhododendrons, get a scorched look when they can’t get water quickly enough; the tips of the leaves curl and turn brown. Mulch can be a good preventive measure, since it reduces water loss.
Even the best gardeners suffer damage during the winter. For additional guidance about caring for your garden during the cold and rehabilitating it afterward, talk to a professional at your local garden centre.
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