How to Protect Plants in Gardens


Protecting plants once the temperatures begin to drop in late fall allows them to overwinter healthily. Winterizing perennial plants, trees and shrub protects tender new buds and prevents ground heave. Ground heave happens as the ground goes through periods of freezing and thawing throughout winter. This process may damage roots or even uproot a plant entirely. Another concern is disease. Plants not properly prepared for winter are more likely to become victims of disease that could have been avoided.

Step 1

Stop pruning and fertilizing trees and shrubs in late summer or early fall. This encourages plants to begin entering dormancy and prevents fresh cuts from being exposed to freezing temperatures.

Step 2

Cut back perennial flowers, such as peonies, once the foliage begins to die off or after the first hard frost in autumn. Cut the plants down to approximately 5 inches above the ground using clean, sharp shears.

Step 3

Rake up and remove all sheared off plant material, dead leaves and fallen pine needles. Remove from the bed and compost if there are no signs of disease, otherwise throw them away.

Step 4

Water each plant thoroughly right before the first expected hard freeze in your area. This prevents winter dehydration, which makes plants more prone to disease.

Step 5

Apply a 3-inch layer of winter mulch around trees and shrubs, but don't place the mulch right up against the trunks of the plants. Cover perennial beds with a 3-inch layer of straw mulch or pine boughs to maintain soil temperature and protect against winter heave.

Step 6

Cover tender plants with a breathable cover, available at garden stores. This prevents winter burn, which may kill the plants otherwise.

Step 7

Prune off any winter-damaged or dead branches from trees and shrubs in early spring before the plants begin actively growing again. This prevents disease that set in over winter from spreading to healthy parts of the plants, and it prevents disease from entering the plants once they begin actively growing again.

Tips and Warnings

  • Avoid applying too much mulch, as this may lead to disease breeding in the mulch and also provides a home to rodents and other pests. A 3-inch layer is sufficient.

Things You'll Need

  • Shears
  • Mulch
  • Plant covers


  • Iowa State University Extension: Prepare Your Plants For Winter
Keywords: protecting plants, winterizing the garden, tree and shrub care

About this Author

Jenny Harrington is a freelance writer of more than five years' experience. Her work has appeared in "Dollar Stretcher" and various blogs. Previously, she owned her own business for four years, selling handmade items online, wholesale and via the crafts fair circuit. Her specialties are small business, crafting, decorating and gardening.