If you were not among the devoted gardeners who managed to check everything off their winterizing to-do list before last week’s surprisingly early snowstorm, you are not alone. Just days preceding the snowfall and sudden plummeting temperatures, spring-flowering bulbs were being planted, gardens and green lawns tended to over unfrozen ground. Plenty of deciduous trees still haven’t dropped all their leaves. In my neighbourhood, deep crimson leaves of Japanese maples dangle wearily to branches not yet bare in an unsettling conclusion to an unfinished fall spectacle.
So how do we complete the task of protecting plants from Old Man Winter when he has not only unabashedly arrived, but also made himself quite comfortable?
According to Karine, a horticultural consultant at Jasmine nurseries in St. Laurent, even though winter weather is here early, (in fact, the earliest ever to have a windchill of minus 20 degrees Celcius) it’s not too late to protect your plants. It just may be unpleasant to do so.
Needled and broadleaf evergreens in exposed sites or near roadways may require burlap windscreens to protect them from desiccating winter winds or from salt spray. Snow and frozen ground make this essential task more challenging. Cedars planted under a home’s overhangs benefit from being wrapped with netting to hold their shape in case of breakage from falling snow or ice. Evergreens under 3 years old are most susceptible to winter damage because they have immature root systems than cannot replenish moisture easily, so newly installed plants will require the most protection. Go outside on the next mild day and enlist the help of a friend or neighbour when protecting vulnerable evergreens.
Fortunately, the perennials and shrubs we grow are well within our hardiness zone, (6A for Montreal) so they will likely not need winter protection. Native plants in particular have adapted to the weather particularities they live in so are unscathed when winter weather hits.
According to customer service representative Christian, at Les Jardins Cléroux in Pierrefonds, most of the roses bred nowadays are hardy enough to withstand Canadian winters on their own. Climbing and shrub roses are especially winter-hardy. But if you are unsure what type of rose you have or if it makes you feel better, cover it with a styrofoam rose cone. Just promptly remove it once spring frost is no longer a threat to prevent other problems.
Perennials in pots
Roots growing in pots are vulnerable to freezing since they don’t have much soil to insulate them. However, large, winterproof containers of perennials that are one or two hardiness zones below ours should successfully survive winter in their pots. Hostas are hardy to zone 2 or 3, which is far below our zone 6 climate, so I allow my hostas to overwinter in their pots and try to ensure they are mulched and well watered before freezing weather kills their crowns. They always re-sprout when warmer weather arrives the following year. Not moving large pots to a shed offer an opportunity to create an arrangement for winter interest and is also easier on my back.
In late winter, hungry, gnawing animals will be searching for food and the lower bark of young fruit trees is particularly vulnerable, but easy to protect with inexpensive plastic spiral wrap.
Although this winter will be an extra long one, find relief in the fact that plants fare better when covered with an insulating blanket of snow than if left exposed to the elements. And the more snow covering your cherished plants the better the protection from harsh winter weather and the happier the gardener will be next spring when plants reappear all lush and green.
Elaine Sanders can be reached at www.solutionsjardins.com