Get Plants Ready for Winter

Bark Cracking alternating moistureQuestion: I am new to this area and am not sure what I should do to prepare my plants for winter. I have planted several fruit trees, roses and perennial flowers this year. I see my neighbor irrigating everything. Is that a good idea?

Answer: A thorough irrigation in the fall is a good idea. Even though the surface soil may be moist, deeper soil may be quite dry. I like to make sure the soil for trees and shrubs is wet at least a foot deep. You can use a shovel to check moisture levels. It takes at least an inch of water to reach a foot deep. You can check how long to run sprinklers to apply an inch of water using shallow cans such as tuna fish cans. In sloping areas where water runs off, you may need to apply several shorter irrigations.

Moisture also reduces winter damage to lawns and flowers. Even though top growth is dormant, plant roots continue to absorb water from the soil. Desiccation or drying is the main cause of winter damage.

Roses and some fruit trees such as plum, peach and cherry are only marginally hardy in our area. I like to protect the graft union with soil or mulch. The graft union is a bulging area near the base of the plant where the improved variety was grafted to a seedling root stock. I like to mound soil or mulch over this area. I usually plant roses deeply so this area is permanently covered with soil.

Rose canes often die down to the soil level if not given extra protection. I have used several methods to protect the canes. The most effective is styrofoam rose cones. Another good method is white insulating covers available from garden supply dealers. Even thinner row covers used for vegetables in the spring give some protection. Straw or leaves can be heaped up over roses for insulation.

Newly planted perennial flowers can also use some protective mulch. I like to cut off the frozen tops and criss cross them over the tops of perennials. Leaves also make good mulch for plants.

Strawberry plants will also benefit from mulching. I have found the white row covers to be very effective for strawberries. The plants come through in much better shape and produce more fruit.

Bark Cracking alternating moistureAnti-desiccants such as Wilt-Pruf are effective in protecting sensitive evergreens from wind and sun damage. Wilt-Pruf coats needles with latex and reduces moisture loss. Alberta Spruce, Arborvitae and some pines are the most susceptible to winter damage.

Young deciduous trees sometimes have bark cracking on their lower trunk area. This is caused by alternate warm sunny days followed by cold nights. The inner wood and bark expand in the warmth of the afternoon sun. The bark cools more rapidly than the wood and splits. The best way to reduce splitting is to shade the trunk below the first branch  with a white plastic or cloth cover which reflects the sunlight. Make sure the cover is porous to allow air movement. Alternately, the sunny south and west sides can be painted with a white outdoor latex paint.

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