As the temperatures begin to drop and the leaves begin turn, outdoor plants become increasingly vulnerable to the possibility of damage from snow, cold and ice. Each spring, as the flurries melt away, gardeners are forced to assess the damage Mother Nature has done. Fortunately, with proper preparation trees, shrubs and gardens can blow through the winter season with flying colors. With planning and a bit of effort, you can winterize your outdoor plants and enjoy the outcome the following spring.
Add a 2-inch thick layer of mulch to the base of any plants you consider susceptible to wintry conditions. This insulates the roots of the plants, helping the surrounding soil to stay warm in cold weather. This protects the plant from the sudden changes in temperature that can cause the roots to fracture. Additionally, by keeping the soil from freezing, you allow the plant to continue to take in water, preventing tissue death caused by dehydration.
Cover plants and shrubs with large sheets of cloth (blankets, tarps, burlap bags) to protect them from an overnight frost. Covers can be removed during daylight hours to allow the leaves access to sunlight and fresh air. Be sure to use cloth coverings only, not plastic or polyethylene, since these materials will restrict the flow of air to the plants beneath.
Move smaller plants indoors, placing them in the garage or the basement for the duration of the winter season. If your plants are in containers, this is a simple task. If they are not and you're truly concerned about their odds of survival, then you might want to consider digging them up and transplanting them to pots. Once the weather improves, you can easily move them back outdoors.
Remove wet and heavy snow when it finally arrives. Gently shake the branches or brush the snow from the foliage since heavy accumulation can cause breakage. If the snowfall is light, you might want to leave it in place since a shallow covering can insulate the plants beneath and weigh them down a bit, protecting them from the wind.
Build a temporary cold frame for tropical plants or ornamental shrubbery. Simply place wooden dowel rods into the ground surrounding the plants and attach clear plastic sheeting to the rods, enclosing and protecting the plants. Leave a few gaps for ventilation. Alternatively, a sturdier version could be made by building a frame from scrap lumber and attaching a sheet of plexiglass or a storm window to it.