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Protecting Tender Perennials with Snow Cover

Posted by Richard Hentschel -

Everyone is talking about the 180 days plus we have had since the last measurable snow fall. It has been nice not to have to shovel or slide down the driveway to get the mail. Yet everything has a downside and that is your perennials and more importantly your tender perennials will have more winter damage without the snow cover protecting them. Besides tender perennials and sensitive plants like strawberries, covering any of your newly planted perennials that you got on clearance at the end of the season is also a very good idea. Root systems will still be limited in size and can easily be heaved out to the ground with repeated freezing and thawing cycles. Snow cover of several inches prevents this during those times in the late fall and early spring, so our mulches are very important when that snow is missing.

Since our weather has not frozen everything solid yet, there is some mulching that can be done to protect our plants now and when the holiday tree comes down. Right now you can use branches and twigs to cover the plants. The branches themselves don't do much, but as they begin to collect leaves and yard debris, natural mulch develops. You can use evergreen branches cut from the bottom of your holiday tree so it fit in the stand or leftover evergreen branches from decorating inside and outside your home. Evergreen branches provide instant protection. Using chicken wire you can "cage" plants individually or put a ring around several plants or an entire row. You can use that bag of coarse leaves that never made it to the compost bin or curb to be collected. Loosely cover the plantings so there is still air movement. If you still have flower stalks on your perennials you can clip them off and use them to cover the basal leaves of the plants they came from.


Your compost pile or bin is not frozen yet, so go ahead and mulch the base of roses using that compost. Be sure to cover up past the graft union on your hybrid roses to protect that area. That compost can be used on any plants really that would benefit from being mulched in for the winter. A benefit of using composts is that next spring, you won't have to take them away, but rather work the composts into the soil in the planting bed. If you feel the compost needs to be amended even more, garden centers still have bags of soil, blended composts, sharp sand and manures available. By using some of your composts now, you will also be making room for the addition of kitchen vegetable waste all winter long. Those scraps won't do much during cold weather but the freezing temperatures will break down the cells which will release moisture into the pile or bin next spring.

With our summer drought, plants went dormant earlier, without the soil moisture available to the root systems, so anything you can do to lessen the loss of moisture through the crown of the plants is very beneficial and you will be rewarded next spring.

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