Winter Damage to the Garden

Here we are – the end of January with several weeks of winter yet to come. That means several weeks of potential winter damage to the garden.

Oh, the normal up and down of temperatures can be endured by most plants if they are in the proper USDA Zone (Zone 6a and 6b for most of West Virginia). When shopping, this information is on the plant tags or catalog listing and can be a matter of survival for your plants. 

The right plant in the right location is essential. That means knowing if there is a wind tunnel effect in your garden. I know that plants on a particular side of my garden are exposed to more than their share of wind. This is no place for delicates. There I have hardy grasses and azaleas.

The garden may look bleak when we get extreme cold temperatures, even for a few days. Don’t despair. As temps return to normal, look outside. Any perennial foliage that is brown and mushy should be trimmed. But only the foliage. There is a good chance the plant is not dead – that is “root hardy” and will come back in the spring.

If shrubs are showing freezer burn, try to resist pruning until spring. You will be surprised by their resilience. If ice has formed on the branches, let nature do her thing and melt the ice. Frozen branches are brittle and prone to breakage. After the ice melts, trim any broken limbs.

Be extremely careful if a large branch breaks and falls anywhere near a power line. And if the line is down, report it to the power/cable/phone company and let the professionals handle the situation.

I have several tree branches that have fallen this year. Luckily, the pup and I were not outside at the time, and no damage was done to structures when they fell. I think it is time for me to have a tree expert look at the health and maintenance of my trees. 

As for shrubs and ice, the same applies. Let the ice melt, trim any broken stems, then wait. Depending on the shrub, winter trimming may sacrifice spring blooms. If you can, wait and prune any damage from spring-blooming bushes until after they have flowered.

You can take precautions ahead of low temps and high winds. Wrapping the bushes in shrub-protecting cloth or even a cotton sheet can help prevent leaf burn. This is a temporary fix for a few days of extreme weather. 

Wind and ice can be damaging to the garden but drifts of snow can serve as insulation for the ground. I gently brush it off my front bushes but do not bother sifting it from the base of the plants. 

Walking through the gardens last week, I noticed lots of hoof prints and other signs of animal wear and tear. That, combined with the winter wind, will encourage me to apply mulch early this spring. In the meantime, readjusting it with the hoe and rake will help protect the soil.

I’ve had several conversations with neighbors and friends about the extreme temps and what to expect for the shrubs. Yes, some plants look like goners now, but it will be a few months before we know for sure if there is permanent damage. I’m hoping Mother Nature will surprise us as she often does and breathe life into the winter weathered garden.