Winter Damage Resolutions

snow on branch can damage trees and shrubs

by ISU Extension & Outreach Linn County Master Gardener Lisa Slattery

The blizzard took its toll on our landscape, everything from minor branches littering the street to full size trees cracking and falling. Snow is a great insulator for ground perennials but can badly damage trees and shrubs. Sometimes it is impossible to prevent winter damage but here are a few tips to keep in mind for the rest of winter.

When possible try to remove heavy, icy snow as it accumulates on small trees, evergreens and shrubs; shaking it off with a broom works well.  If you have smaller shrubs lining your driveway or walkways, make sure not to throw heavy snow on top of them when shoveling.  However, it’s OK to keep small shrubs like evergreens covered with snow that falls on them – it protects them by acting as an insulating blanket against harsh winter winds that can dry out and desiccate the foliage. 

It’s actually tougher to protect plants against extreme cold temperatures than to protect them against heavy snows.  For small shrubs, use chicken wire or burlap to encircle small shrubs and fill in with straw, pine needles or mulch.  For large shrubs and trees your only option is to choose trees and shrubs that are hardy for our area and will more easily withstand winter temperatures.  In Eastern Iowa we are zone 4 and 5.  If you do have storm damage make sure you remove any dangling or dangerous limbs with a clean cut.  If you cannot reach tree damage it's best left to the professionals.

Winter salt damage can be minimized by using deicing salts sparingly.  Try to remove as much snow and ice as possible before applying and mix them with sand when possible.  ISU recommends fifty pounds of sand to 1 pound of salt.  If you have trees and shrubs near roadways that receive a lot of salt throughout the winter, flush the area with a thorough soaking of water as the ground thaws in spring. This helps to flush the salt from the root zone of your plants.  Salt-tolerant tree species can also be planted along streets.

Winter also brings a new year.  This year make garden resolutions, it's the perfect opportunity to set goals for the garden.  Here are some suggestions to get started: 

  1. Journaling: This is the best way to record your gardening successes and failures. Your journal can be a notebook, spiral binder or a calendar.  A calendar works well for recording dates like seed orders, planting, harvesting and other tasks.
  2. Photos:  Take photos year round. Start with your winter landscape, spring, the first plants coming up, summer and fall.  This year I plan to take pictures every few weeks.
  3. Compost: Start a compost pile if you don't already have one.
  4. Plan:  When thinking about the growing season one key component is “the proper plant for the proper place.” I am easily seduced in the spring by interesting plants that just don’t work very well in my garden due to the wrong light or soil conditions. I resolve to create a “do-able” wish list of plants to add to my collection that will prosper in my garden. I also resolve to bring the list with me when perusing the local garden centers in the spring.

I think these three resolutions are reasonable and attainable. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. One of the tools I’ll use to help me keep my resolutions is the Iowa State University Yard and Garden Extension website http://www.yardandgarden.extension.iastate.edu where there’s an enormous amount of information on these three topics and more. There are also dozens of good gardening books and guides at the local libraries and bookstores. And don’t forget the ISU Linn County Master Gardener’s hortline, public lectures, radio and TV Q&A programs, and classes offered throughout the year. You’ll find all of this information and more at http://www.extension.iastate.edu/linn/yardgarden.htm. So, Happy New Year, may this be the best year yet for your gardens! Now, go set some New Year’s Resolutions!!!     

 

Iowa State University Extension's Gardening in the Zone experts discuss another common winter occurance: Rabbit Damage

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