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Gardening Columns

Helping Plants Overwinter

First published on on December 18, 2008, by Suzanne DeJohn

Winter can be hard on plants, sometimes more so in our region than than in areas with seemingly harsher winters. Two factors stand out: fluctuating temperatures and the lack of reliable snow cover.

Temperatures in the 60s this week may feel great to us, but to plants it's a disadvantage. Some may be fooled into thinking spring has arrived and begin to break dormancy, only to be zapped by the next cold snap. Others may be heaved out of the soil as alternating freezes and thaws causes soil to repeatedly expand and contract. 

So instead of curling up for the winter with our garden chores behind us, we may still have work to do to protect our plants.

Gather Evergreen Boughs
Leftover evergreen boughs are plentiful right now, and they make a nice cushiony mulch material that doesn't compact and protects the soil from wide temperature fluctuations. After the holidays, bring your Christmas tree outdoors, cut off the branches, and spread them, overlapping, around your plants so they form as deep a layer as possible. This is especially helpful around roses, lavender, agastaches, dianthus, and other perennials that don't like their crowns to be compacted and wet during the cold.

You can also offer to pick up leftover trees and greens from neighbors who may be more than happy to be spared their disposal.

Dig Around for Mulch Materials
If you've stockpiled leaves for the winter, spread them around borderline-hardy plants. If possible, mix them with pine needles or boughs so they don't compact.

You may even be able to find a source of hay or straw bales -- such as a horsey neighbor with extra food in the barn. Bark chips are another option. 

Check Soil Moisture
Trees and shrubs that you put in last summer or fall, as well as plants in outdoor containers, will dry out more quickly if the soil isn't frozen and in the absence of moisture from rain or melting snow, so check them periodically through the winter. 

A little time protecting plants now can help them weather the winter and be ready to burst forth in spring.

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