Winter Plant Protection

With the recent below-average temperatures and cold weather we are experiencing in the South, some of you might be wondering how to protect plants from winter damage. Using tree wrap or shelters are two possible options to guard against winds, snow and ice. You can also take simple steps to winterize your perennial beds; including proper mulching techniques.

Tree Wrap

Evergreen shrubs, although they seem hardy, can suffer injury during winter due to the harsh conditions, especially from wind. To protect evergreen shrubs from chilling winds, you can purchase commercial tree wraps. The most familiar types of wrap are made of burlap netting, available at a local hardware store. (Keep in mind this is not the same kind of tree wrap used to prevent sun scald on trunks.)

How do you use tree wrap?
One method is to bind up a shrub, “mummy-style”. By wrapping plants with tree wrap in this manner, their limbs are pulled in toward their trunks and supported, so that they won’t snap under the weight of snow or ice. Some plant species such as dwarf spruces and any newly planted evergreens are highly susceptible to wind damage as well, so they should be protected.

While the mummy-style method can be used to protect plants from wind damage, you have another option. You can minimize wind damage to evergreen shrubs by building a shelter around them to fend off the winds.

The burlap wrap can serve to protect shrubs (and small trees) not only from wind, but also road-salt spray. In addition, using chicken wire (if buried a few inches below-ground) can serve to keep pests from nibbling at your plants.

Plant and Shrub Shelters

Being a windbreaker, tree wraps differ from shelters because their emphasis is on the sides, not the tops of plants. Shelters therefore keep out vertically falling snow and ice. If a lot of snow and ice is not in the forecast where you live but you find this method easier, then it is certainly better than not taking any precautions.

Most deciduous flowering shrubs, unlike their evergreen counterparts, provide little visual interest in winter. Yet these shrubs can be damaged by heavy snows or ice storms that snap their branches. To avoid such plant damage, you can build or buy a shelter to house your flowering shrubs. Since most of them provide little visual interest in winter anyway, you have little to lose by hiding them under a shelter.

Three main shelter methods:

  1. You can build shrub shelters out of natural materials.
  2. You can build an A-frame out of lumber.
  3. You can buy a snow frame (available at some hardware stores, etc.).

Shelters come not only in various sizes, but also in various shapes and materials.
The roof will keep excessive snow and ice off your shrubs. This type of housing for your shrubs is made completely from natural materials that can be gathered for free, if you know where to look. Shelters may also assume an “A”-shape or a tepee shape, both of which shed snow and ice well. Furthermore, as an alternative to rustic poles, the building material may be lumber or metal.


In perennial flower beds, multiple organic landscaping mulches offer much protection and other benefits. Cedar mulch is discussed here, but there are other options such as pine bark, wood chips, pinestraw, hay or straw. Mulch provides a layer of insulation that helps protect your borderline-hardy plants from the cold. While mulch can be the answer, be aware that there are right and wrong ways to use it. Incorrect usage may end up doing more harm than good. Follow these tips when applying cedar mulch or other organic landscaping materials:

  • When to apply: Apply cedar mulch after there’s been 2-3 days of sustained freezing temperatures. Avoid piling up mulch right around the base of a tree or shrub, as the mulch provides a hiding place for rodent pests, which might gnaw at the trunk. Keep the mulch at least one foot away from the base.
  • How much: Apply 4-5 inches of cedar mulch for winter protection.
  • When to remove: In early spring, begin gradually pulling back cedar mulch away from your perennials, so as not to suffocate them.

*Note that premature application in fall gives rodents a better chance of making a home under your cedar mulch which is something you clearly don’t want! Thus the recommendation to wait for the arrival of freezing temperatures in your area.

*Note also that cedar mulch used for winter protection is treated differently than if you were using it summer for weed control. For the latter use, apply 2 to 2.5 inches. But for winter protection, double that thickness (you want the extra insulation).

Cedar mulch and other organic landscaping materials not only keep the ground warmer for plants in winter, but also reduce the chances of frost heaves, which can damage plant roots. So although there’s work involved in using them, the effort is worthwhile. Here’s how to prepare the area in need of winter protection:

  • Remove weeds and dead annuals
  • Remove diseased stems and foliage on perennials.
  • Leave healthy stems and foliage on perennials.
  • Dig up non-hardy bulbs for storage.

It’s interesting to note that snow cover also helps insulate perennial flower beds, but Mother Nature can be inconsistent. And while plastic-sheeting and landscape fabrics will keep weeds down, they don’t offer much insulation value. Although organic landscaping materials eventually decompose and have to be replaced, their decomposition also has a positive aspect: nutrients are released which can make your soil healthier.

We hope you have found this article helpful as a means to improve your home lawn care this winter. Rainy Days Irrigation is here to  help with irrigation system winterization, which adds an extra layer of protection against the harmful winter precipitation and chilling temperatures.

Have Questions? Give us a call: (919) 779-9285 or Contact Us Today to schedule an appointment!

Rainy Days Irrigation, Inc. | 115 Sigma Dr. | Garner, NC | (919) 779-9285
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