No, the White Walkers aren’t coming, but marauding deer, cold temperatures, and desiccating winds surely are. Here are four simple things you can do to reduce plant stress.
Landscape trees and shrubs are not camels!
Even after you turn off your irrigation system for the season, your trees and shrubs still need to be watered. Newly planted trees need regular water to establish their roots and you can’t rely on rainfall alone. Even established trees don’t like autumn drought-stress while they try to store sugars for the winter. A simple trick to deliver water slowly to allow it to soak into the root zone, is to put a large 5-gallon bucket with a few holes drilled in it, near every tree or shrub. Place a bucket about halfway between the trunk and the drip-line at the outside edge of their leaf canopy. Trees need 5 to 10 gallons per week, while shrubs only need 3 to 5 gallons, so fill up that bucket! This ensures that water will soak deeply to a depth of 12 to 18 inches, well into the root zone for larger plants. After the first hard frost, you can put those buckets away until spring. Even your conifers and broadleaf evergreens will appreciate the extra water, and look great all winter.
Doughnuts are good for you
A good mulch layer is another simple and cost-effective way to protect trees and shrubs. A thick layer of shredded leaves helps keep the soil temperature even, reduces frost-heaves, and cuts down on water loss. We saw a lot of fungal diseases this summer, so if any of your trees showed distress, clean out those leaves into the yard-waste bin so they can be composted properly. Leaves from healthy trees can be mowed a few times to shred them, and then collected and spread underneath to protect your plants. You can also use wood-chips and branches from summer pruning; make friends with your local arborist to get it delivered for free. Remember, don’t make a mulch-volcano and pile it against the trunk … think more like a doughnut and protect the root zone from 6 inches away from the trunk to the edge of that drip-line. And the best part is as the mulch breaks down, it’s improving your soil!
Bundle up with burlap
While your trees don’t need down parkas, a simple burlap tree-wrap will protect thin-barked trees like maples or crabapples from frost-cracking, protect against sun-scald, and reduce deer browsing. Vinyl, chicken-wire, and even thick cardboard can also provide protection until spring when tree-guards should be removed. Deer prefer new shoots and young trees, so plan on lightly wrapping any newly planted trees up to their first set of branches. Repellents are also effective, especially ones that taste or smell awful, but plan on reapplying after heavy rains. See if you can get any used burlap coffee bags, to get that two-for-one solution of barrier and repellent. Unless those pesky deer really like their morning lattes.
Precision pruning protects plants
Finally, a simple pruning might be the best protection against winter damage. Take the time now while the weather is mild to remove any dead, diseased, or damaged branches. Preventative pruning will help a tree or shrub handle any snow-load and will reduce winter breakage. Make sure branches won’t touch the ground or cover walkways. Take the tip from Davey Trees – pruning while trees and shrubs are dormant allows for better precision with cleaner cuts and a better view of the overall structure and shape. And tackle this soon, because you won’t want to stand on a ladder when the weather is icy!
So sharpen your pruners, drill a few holes, wrap those trunks, call your arborist, and spread some mulch. Your plants will be much happier this winter.