Top 11 Fix-Ups for Garden Winter Damage
Follow these helpful tips for repairing winter damage. Anxious gardeners venture out early to assess the damage from winter’s icy grasp. While many problems can and should be treated, don’t be too hasty. Not only can plants show surprising resilience, but also a late wintry blast can undo your efforts and even make things worse.
1/ Bald patches with a greyish cast in the lawn may be the result of snow mold, a cold-loving fungus that thrives under deep snow cover. It’s unsightly but not usually fatal. A brisk raking and light fertilization should bring the grass back (fungicides are not recommended). To prevent snow mold, keep your grass thick and healthy, avoid thatch buildup and rake the lawn clean in fall. Piles of leaves left on the lawn can also cause bare patches. If the grass doesn’t respond to the above treatment, cut out the patches and resod, or rake them, cover with a thin layer of triple-mix soil and reseed.
2/ Pavers and cobblestones can be heaved up by the ground freezing and thawing. Once it’s warm enough to work outside, lift the pavers, add fine screenings if necessary to make the base level and firm, and reset the pavers.
3/ The support posts of wooden arbors and fences will eventually rot with the exposure to constant wet. Replace them before they fall over and do some damage. The sides of raised wooden flowerbeds often bow out as the soil expands and contracts over winter. Install a cross brace to hold the sides together.
4/ With the weight of snow and ice, trees and shrubs may suffer bent or broken branches. Bent branches often return to normal once the weather warms. Broken twigs should be trimmed back to an emerging bud, while larger branches should be pruned to a side branch showing new growth or right back to the main stem. If the top of a tree’s main trunk is broken, it will likely put up a new leader in time; but if more than 50 percent is broken off, the tree should probably be taken out.
5/ Upright evergreens, especially cedars, that have opened up from accumulated snow can be gently tied back into shape with twine. After a couple of months, the string can be removed and the branches should remain in place. Very straggly or broken bits can be pruned off but be careful not to cut too deeply into conifers, except for yews, as old branches won’t resprout new growth and you’ll end up with bare spots. For the greatest resistance to winter damage, look to spruces.
6/ Some conifers naturally turn bronze in winter, going an even deeper color with the cold. They will usually green up again with warmer temperatures. However, if the needles go brown and dry, the plants are permanently damaged and should be pruned or, in severe cases, replaced.
7/ Many broadleaf evergreens, such as boxwoods and hollies, exhibit brown desiccated leaves in spring, usually on the side that gets the most wind or sun. When the ground is frozen, the plants can’t take up sufficient water and the leaves are “burned” when exposed to drying winds and winter sun. Often new growth will come through and push off the dead leaves. But if a whole branch shows no sign of life when others are leafing out, prune it back. The bush can look a tad lopsided so some pruning may be needed to shape it. Install windbreaks, such as temporary snow fences or more permanent hedgerows, to protect vulnerable plants in open spots, and make sure all evergreens go into winter well-watered.
8/ The stems of some plants, such as roses and hardy fuchsias, will die back, either part way or right to the ground. Wait to see the extent of the dieback, i.e., blackening of the stems, then prune them back to a live, outward-facing bud. If you have to cut the plant right down, give the roots time to respond – it might resprout. If not, you have a planting opportunity!
9/ Rabbits, mice, voles, and deer nibble the bark of many shrubs and trees. If the bark is stripped off all the way around the trunk, i.e. girdled, the plant is likely a goner. If not, trim back any ragged edges of the bark with a sharp blade, keep the plant well watered, top dress with compost and trust the plant’s natural processes to callus over the wounds. To prevent such predations, wrap the trunk with galvanized wire mesh in fall.
10/ Sometimes long vertical cracks will appear in the bark of young trees or thin-skinned ones, such as Japanese maples. Thought to be caused by a sudden thaw-freeze or by weakness from a previous injury, they will generally heal themselves. As above, apply a generous helping of compost to the root zone and water well.
11/ As the soil freezes and thaws,
shallow-rooted perennials may heave out of the ground.
If roots are exposed, cover them with straw until the soil is
workable enough to push the plants back into the ground or replant
them. Putting down a layer of mulch eight centimeters thick will
help to moderate temperature extremes.
Pest Protection: Control Unwanted Guests in Winter
With the gardening season coming to a close, it’s no time to let your guard down as pests continue to be a nuisance all year round. Here are a few simple guidelines for protecting your garden from pests over the colder months ahead:
• Closely monitor your outdoor space to determine the type of pest and degree of severity.
• Wrap trees and shrubs in burlap to protect them from animals like skunks and rabbits.
• Keep garbage tightly locked and water sources covered at night to discourage raccoons.
• Ensure mulch is pulled away from the bases of shrubs to deter mice from gathering inside.
• Keep an eye out for aphids, which can tolerate cooler temperatures. For a natural solution to aphids, try Scotts EcoSense insecticidal soap, made from plant-based fatty acids.
• Control lingering weeds on hard surfaces to prevent damage to patios and walkways naturally with an acetic acid or vinegar formulation such as Scotts EcoSense weed control.
• Weeds in the lawn are best controlled by crowding them out by overseeding in the fall when cool, damp conditions are perfect for seed germination. For best results, use a pure premium grass seed for a thicker lawn with fewer weeds.