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Winter protection essentials

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Wooden snow fence and jute canvas
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal

There are various ways to protect plants. The basic system described below is useful for most trees and shrubs (conifers and small trees and shrubs). Other solutions are described in the Protection by type of plant section.

Ideally, you should protect both a plant’s roots and its aerial parts. This is usually done as follows.

  • Add a good layer of organic mulch (10 to 15 cm thick) around the base of the plant. This carpet of plant material will protect the roots from the freeze-thaw cycle.
  • Drive four or five stakes into the ground around the plant.
  • Wrap snow fencing around the stakes, attaching it firmly to them.
  • Finally, wrap and staple a tarp around the snow fence.

Installing and removing winter protection

Winter protection should be installed after the first frost. It is best not to install it too early in the fall, because it could prevent the plants from hardening off. For basic winter protection, drive the stakes into the ground before it freezes and wait for a ground frost before installing the mulch and tarp. You should also wait for a light ground frost before covering perennials with mulch.

Winter protection should be removed in early spring (late March – early April), on a cloudy day, to prevent sunscalding. It is best to remove the protection in late winter if there is any chance of the plant overheating and mould forming. You can always replace it if a late frost threatens.

It is important to remove protective mulch from perennials and unwrap the trunks of trees and shrubs as early as possible in spring to prevent mould. For conifers and shrubs that retain their leaves, remove the mulch as early as possible to allow the soil to thaw out quickly so that the plant can absorb water from the soil – this will prevent the leaves from becoming dehydrated.

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