protect shrubs overwinter

Do I Need To Protect My Shrubs Over The Winter?

Why plants die and how you can keep them alive

I got this question on my Facebook page and my answer is deceptively simple.

I never protect my shrubs during the winter.

The reason I have evergreens is so they’ll be “Ever Green” all year long.

I hate the notion of an “Ever Brown” when they’re wrapped with burlap. Why plant an evergreen and then cover it with ugly burlap? I won’t bore you with a rant about this but…

Let’s just say I want my garden to look great all year round and burlap or other protective devices just don’t cut it for me.

So why do some shrubs turn brown?

Road salt.

If they’re too close to a highway, and the road is salted for ice then damage from spray drift (when the cars blow past kicking up the salt) is a prime culprit.

In this case, either wrap or transplant the evergreens out of this area and replace them with woody shrubs that do not require wrapping.

Personally, I’d move them and replace with flowering shrubs rather than looking at brown burlap all winter.

Wrong location

The prime victims here are yew or broadleaf shrubs (shrubs that don’t drop their leaves in the fall)

  • They’re planted where they get a lot of winter sun.
  • The sunlight warms up the leaf, the leaf stomata opens up to “sweat” and loses moisture.
  • The plant can’t replace that moisture because the ground is frozen.
  • Without the moisture, the leaves turn brown.

The solution is to plant them so they don’t get that warm winter midday sunshine or to spray a protective antidessicant spray such as Wiltproof (top and bottom of leaf) that will stop the leaf/needle from losing moisture.

There’s absolutely no reason to wrap a tough evergreen such as a Juniper if it’s not next to a road.

Wrong Plant

If you’re pushing the growing zone — perhaps with something like a tender Rhododendron — then you can expect the “wrong location” advice to kick in with a vengeance along with the plant itself being too tender to survive.

The solution here is to search out the hardier versions (look for Rhododendron ‘Northern Lights’ plants for example.)

What About Rodent Damage?

This is one of the best/only reasons to put a tree guard on a tree. I use something called “hardware cloth” available in all major building supply stores. I wrap every young tree — evergreen or deciduous — with this material.

I’ve never bothered with older multi-stem shrubs until this past winter when the vole population exploded and took out every unwrapped shrub and small tree across our entire island.

So Why Do People or Garden Centers Recommend Wrapping?

It’s old advice and come to us handed-down from previous generations.

It’s a marketing thing to sell you burlap or other protective gear.

But What If My Shrub Dies?

Shrubs die for a lot of reasons and if it’s wrong plant — wrong place then you can expect to pay that price.

Get the right plant into the right place.

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