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Winter Protection for Landscape Plants

Winter Protection for Landscape Plants

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Published by Sharad Bhutoria

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Published by: Sharad Bhutoria on Aug 06, 2010
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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Oklahoma State University 
Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Fact Sheetsare also available on our website at:
The rst step in avoiding winter damage is to select plantsthat are winter-hardy to the area. Plant mail-order cataloguesand plant material literature will usually state the cold hardi
ness of each plant listed. Cold hardiness is normally basedon the USDA cold hardiness recommendations. The state ofOklahoma is divided into zones 6 to zone 7 (Figure 1).If you choose to use a plant that is marginally hardy,choosing the correct site may determine the survivability ofthe plant. Buildings may or may not offer winter protectionfor plants. West walls reect heat, which can cause plants tobe damaged by daily freezing and thawing (Figure 2). Whilethe same plants growing in the shadow of north walls maybe damaged less because they thaw more slowly.
Protecting plants from dry winter winds is also importantfor some plant species. Placing the plant on the downwindside of a wall or windbreak of other trees and shrubs will helpreduce the incidence of desiccation or drying out.The second step is to keep plants healthy during thegrowing season. Plants in poor health or poorly adapted
Winter Protectionfor Landscape Plants
David Hillock
Extension Horticulture Specialist
Mike Schnelle
Extension Horticulture Specialist
Figure 1. USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map of Oklahoma.
Figure 2. Reected heat from a building may cause
thawing and freezing on a winter day which may resultin plant damage.
-5 to -106 a7 b7 a6 b0 to -510 to 55 to 0
°F ZonesSouth
Highway 48Highway 81West
Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service 
species are the rst to suffer during any weather stress. Fewlandscape plants recommended for Oklahoma die directlyfrom cold weather during an average winter. Generally, manyfactors contribute to what is commonly called winterkill. To
keep plants healthy avoid late-summer fertilization and
pruning,supply plants with adequate moisture, and mulch to keepmoisture and temperature levels even.
Fertilizing is best done between early spring to mid-
 August while the plants are actively growing. It is during thistime that plants can best utilize the nutrients available in fertil
izers. Even though plant roots continue to grow during thewinter months when soil temperatures are favorable (above40
F), much of the elemental nitrogen can be lost due toleaching or vaporization. However, if plants seem to be weakor if nutrients are decient as determined by a soil test, thena fall application of low nitrogen fertilizer can be benecial.Nutrient-starved plants should be fertilized to correct decien
cies after frost, but before freezing weather if possible. Lack
of proper nutrition makes all plants more subject to winter
damage. Proper decisions about fertilizer requirements andrates needed can be made by having the soil tested by theOklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.In case of deciency, use a fertilizer according to labeldirections. If trees or shrubs are growing in turf, wait untilten days after frost. Before fertilizing plants in beds, cultivateshallowly around plants except such shallow rooted plantsas azaleas. Water after fertilizing if sufcient rain is delayedfor more than one or two days after application.To correct a micronutrient deciency like iron, apply aliquid or chelated product according to label directions andwater it in.
Pruning and Fall Cleanup
Pruning from mid-August to killing frost is discouraged.Some species such as crape myrtle might be stimulated togrow and low temperatures could damage the tender stems. Also, many ower buds of spring-owering shrubs and treescould be destroyed.However, dead, diseased, or insect-infested plant partsshould be removed anytime they are noticed.Refrain from removing lower limbs of young, newlyplanted trees the rst year or too many of the lower limbs ofthin barked trees at one time. Removing too many too quicklycould result in winter damage from the wind and sun. Forproper timing and pruning techniques see fact sheet F-6409,“Pruning Ornamental Trees, Shrubs, and Vines.”Haul all infested debris away. Many insects and diseasesover-winter in dead plant parts. However, most leaves andclippings can be composted or shredded and used as mulch.Do not allow fallen leaves to remain piled on lawn grasses.
Water and Soil Moisture
Lack of adequate soil moisture is often a major causeof winter damage. All plants, but especially narrowleaf andbroadleaf evergreens, use water during winter. Moisture mustbe available below the frost line or frozen soil.Plants should be watered thoroughly in the fall to preparethem for the winter months. If the soil is heavy clay, watershould be applied very slowly. To speed water absorptionor to get water into the soil on a sloping bank, holes maybe punched or drilled a few inches deep. These holes maybe left open or back-lled with peat or mulch to aid waterabsorption.During dry winters, broadleaf evergreens such as holliesshould be watered about once each month. Do not forgetthose growing in above ground planters protected from rain.They need watering even in a wet season. Also, rememberto water plants that are located under the eaves of a buildingor home since they often receive little natural precipitation.Most container-grown plants today are produced in asoil-less mix. These need water more often, even after plant
ing, than eld-grown plants. This is because the soil-lessgrowing mix holds very little water. Until the roots grow intothe surrounding soil the plant can dehydrate even though thebed soil is damp. This is especially true of plants like holliesand other broadleaf evergreens planted in fall and winter.When watering new container-grown plants, slowly applythe water directly at the center of the plant.
Protecting Young Trees
Trunks of some newly planted trees, especially thosewith green trunks or thin-bark, require protection from directsunlight during all seasons. They are especially susceptibleto sunscald (blistering and cracking of the bark) during wintermonths when leaves are absent. Protect the trunk with a com
mercial tree wrap such as a polyurethane spiral wrap (Figure3) or paper (kraft) wrap. The wrap should be applied in the fall,but should be removed prior to trunk expansion each spring.The most commonly reported damage from trunk protectivewraps is trunk girdling or constriction because the wrap wastoo tight or left on too long. Generally, a tree will only needto be wrapped the rst season or two after planting.Tie the wrap rmly, but not tightly. Polyurethane wrapsexpand without binding the trunk. Start at the groundand wrap up tothe rst branchslightly overlap
ping as you go(Figure 4). Do not
attach wraps with
wire, nylon rope,plastic ties, orelectrical tape.
Figure 3. Plas-tic tree guards(polyurethanespiral wraps)
can be reused
for many years,allow good airmovement
between bark
and guard, andwill not girdlethe trunk.
Figure 4. Apply paper wraps starting at the base of thetree, overlapping as you go, up to the rst branch.Figure 5. Temporary barriers may help protect evergreen
plants from dry, cold winter winds.Figure 6. Chicken wire
mesh can be used to
protect trunks fromanimal damage.
Plants prone to winter desiccation, such as broadleafevergreens, when planted in open windy areas may requireadditional protection. Temporary protective barriers such assheets of burlap, lathe fencing, bales of hay etc. can be con
structed to provide protection from the drying winds (Figure5).Protect young trees and shrubs from animal damage.Polyurethane wrap, wire mesh collars (Figure 6) or rodentrepellent paint can be used. Holly, honeylocust, elm, andfruit trees are particularly susceptible. Remember snow willchange the height of the bite.
Wait until after killing frost to apply winter mulch. Inaddition to insulating plant stems and roots from freezing,mulch also prevents uctuation in soil temperatures. Mild,sunny weather warms the soil. Some unmulched shrubssuch as roses and many perennial owers then begin togrow only to be damaged when freezing temperatures return.Newly planted plants are often lifted out of the soil due to theconstant freezing and thawing motion of the soil that causesupheaval and damage to new roots. Keep mulches a minimumof six inches from the plant stems or trunks. Mice or verminoften overwinter in mulch and may nibble the bark off. Deepmulches or mounds should be completely removed by March1 in most of the state.Many materials can be used for mulching. These include,but are not limited to, bark, old hay, straw, sawdust, cottonburrs, and grass clippings. If hay or straw is used presproutweed seeds by soaking with water for two or three weeksbefore use. This should be done while the weather is still mild.If sawdust is used, as much as one cup of urea per bushelmay be needed to prevent nitrogen deciencies.The ner textured the mulch, the thinner the layer required.For example, one or two inches of sawdust will insulate asmuch as four or ve inches of hay or straw. Leaves shouldnot be used unless they have been shredded or composted. Avoid using diseased tree leaves, etc. for mulching. Useleaves or grass clippings with caution as they can pack andprevent air and water from entering the soil.

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