Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts for maintaining your landscape and protecting your plants during the winter:
- If necessary you can prune evergreens such as holly, boxwood, distylium and conifers. Overgrown hollies and boxwoods can be reduced by as much as 1/3 of their size without harm. Be careful if pruning conifers back hard. Do not prune any branches of a conifer such as a juniper, gold mop cypress, or arborvitae back so far that there is not any green foliage left on the branch. Better to plan major reduction of conifers gradually over several seasons.
- Avoid pruning plants with hollow trunks or stems until spring. This includes hydrangeas, butterfly bushes, roses and ornamental grasses. Left exposed during the winter the hollow stems will collect moisture that will freeze and thaw with temperature changes. This can kill the cell tissue of the plant. Wait until March to prune these. At that time cut ornamental grasses back to about five inches tall. Butterfly bushes can be pruned back to as little as a foot tall. Many of the dwarf butterfly bushes may need very little pruning. Knockout roses can be cut back to two foot tall or even less.
- Do rake up and dispose of leaves from roses. They may have a fungus which could carry over into the spring.
- Pull or blow fallen leaves from the crotches of your shrubs. Bunches of leaves allowed to remain in branches can hold moisture and create fungal problems come spring.
- Rake or blow leaves off evergreen groundcovers such as vinca minor, thrift and Georgia Blue veronica. The lack of sunlight can kill the groundcover, and the trapped moisture creates an optimal environment for fungus.
- Plants less than a year old are still getting established and are more susceptible to cold damage. If the forecast calls for deep freezes lasting more than just a few hours overnight, it is a good idea to saturate the soil surrounding these plants ahead of time. Dry soil will freeze near the temperature of the air while wet soils will freeze closer to 32 degrees. This will help protect young plants.
- Plants in containers are also more susceptible to cold damage. Keep containers well watered, and make sure they have the capability to drain. Consider bringing in or covering planters that have less cold hardy plants like gardenias and camellias. If you cover to protect from deep freezes use a blanket or burlap. Plastic can be used but must be supported to avoid touching the foliage. There is no insulation where plastic is in contact with the foliage. Keep in mind that blankets will get heavy if it snows. The best recommendation is to cover with an old blanket and then secure plastic over the blanket. Remove when temperatures are moving back toward the 30s.
- Don’t forget to drain and cover your fountain. Large garbage bags work well. Make sure they are secured so they do not blow off. If you have a smaller fountain, it may be simpler to just bring it into the garage for the winter.
- If you have been considering pruning larger branches off a tree to limb up the canopy, winter is the time to do so as you do not have the sap running near as much as in the spring or summer..
Remember we are dealing with Mother Nature and she runs the show. Occasionally we have abnormally wet or cold winters and some plants are going to suffer or die regardless of any precautions we take.
Once spring arrives, do not be quick to remove or prune damaged plants. Often it just takes time for a damaged plant to come back to life. Loropetalum are notorious for being slow to recover, but more often than not they do spring back. Many cold damaged plants will come back from their roots. We see this with hydrangeas and butterfly bushes. Patience is essential in allowing damaged plants time to recover.