Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How to protect your garden from winter snow

Sending out an S.O.S....Save Our Shoots!

Snow is coming and I'm slightly going into over protective parent mode with my plants!!
This winter the weather in Seattle has been mild to say the least. By this time last year we had already had a number of days in the negatives plus measurable snow fall, maybe even a few snow days at school...but here we get an inch on the ground and its called the "Snow-apocalypse" (*snowpocalypse please refer to #2) Seattle is good at freaking out and over reacting to snow!! Oh my god its sticking, what do we do???

Which leads me to I just over-reacting? There is snow in the forecast for this weekend and my garden is already starting to shoot! Yesterday we had a high of 51 with blue sunny skies, gorgeous! I woke to a frost this morning with temps of ever will my plants cope from such extremes?

Last year I lost a number of plants including two of my gorgeous white Hydrangeas, which I am playing favorite child to at the moment as I don't want to lose any more! My other favorite that is susceptible to frost damage is my Magnolia which is covered in hundreds of tiny buds, I would be devastated if something happened to it! Also my Confederate Star Jasmine is finally recovering from snow-apocalypse 2011...sigh!

 RIP Hydrangea, the Apocalypse of 2011's first casualty

What am I to do? The gardens are for the most part winterized with a large amount of mulch over the garden beds protecting the roots, about 2inches deep keeping away from the trunks. For mulch I used what my garden provided for free, just by raking the fallen leaves straight on to the beds it provided enough...thanks mother nature! I have to check the soil from time to time as it has been a dry winter, to make sure the moisture is penetrating the soil under the mulch. I have noticed that under certain trees I have had to water the shrubs as the soil had dried so much...Crazy to water a garden in winter, in Seattle!!
But what about the tender, helpless, vulnerable new born shoots? Do I protect them with a covering? Wrap them? Just let the snow do its thing?

 My technique last year....The crazy gardening neighbor

 Rose shoots from last year, they really didn't seem to mind!

The more I read about what to do, the more I want to scream at my computer...I can not bring them inside over the winter months!! No they can not be a house plant till the warmer weather returns!! Really is that the only option? OK 20ft Magnolia looks like your sharing the house with us, not likely! I am not about to dig my huge hydrangea out of the garden to relocate to a pot to bring in my house. I think I'll try the burlap route this year, swaddle them until the snow passes?

Covering: This is one of the most effective ways of protecting the foliage of evergreen shrubs. Like Rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas and early flowering plants will often benefit from being covered with some type of cloth material during extremely cold weather..It is also effective for plants with new shoots! (yay)
Start by placing three or four stakes around the plant being protected. I have some bamboo stakes I will use for this. Next drape the cloth material over the stakes, being careful that the cloth does not come in contact with the leaves as it can cause freeze. Do not use plastics for this job, as it not only cuts off air to the plant, it also acts much like a greenhouse which can cause leaf rot to form, taking plants from nightly lows to high daily temperature in a relatively short time period. This rapid temperature change can cause serious freeze damage or may be fatal to plants.
Any type of covering should only be left in place during the cold spell. As soon as the weather moderates or it begins to rain, remove the covering completely. However, leave the stakes in case it gets cold again.
Burlap (which my friend showed me you can get for free from local feed stores, thanks Jill), old moving blankets, sheets or similar cloth or fabric materials are the best types to use as a cover over plants. Attaching with clothes pins is useful to keep them secure and sturdy for the weight of the snow.

This will work well for my shrubs but in regards to my Magnolia I have no clue?

Fellow garden bloggers....What are your experiences with mild winters and late frost/snow? Would love to hear your survival techniques!! Any other over protective Magnolia parents out there?

Some other useful sites...
Winter protection for Hydrangeas
Shrub protection from the snow


  1. Hey Julia, I'm getting a wee bit nervous about this forecast too! I lost a hydrangea last year and it was sad :( I like your burlap idea. But, a large magnolia? I don't know. I can't remember the blog but there is a guy in the midwest who is a pro on magnolia's and last year he told me that they are for the most part, pretty hardy. Shoot, if I can find his blog, I'll send it to you. Anyway, best of luck! Rhodies should be pretty hardy here (PNW), but some of the fragile plants it would be worth covering. Cheers, Jenni

  2. We're facing the same thing in Wisconsin this winter, believe it or not! Record high of 53 today, and now tomorrow we're expecting 6-8 inches of snow and highs in the 20s! That is hard on plants and people, alike! So many plants around here are ready to pop. I shudder to think of all the plants/blooms we'll lose. I'm sure many of them will be just fine, but this is so unusual for us!

  3. I lost 6 rose trees last year to the weather, so after work today I put extra leaves and compost around all of the rest. (they came back as a root stock probably white or red, but not the nice ones they used to be). I also have done garbage bags. I guess I hope that all of my plants too large to dig up or put in the back room (like a 20' magnolia) should be able to fend for itself by now (is that cold and callous to the pour darlings?) Now all i can do is keep my fingers crossed and hope the weather man is wrong.

  4. I am not worrying so much about the snow more about our temps dipping down in the 20's. Unfortunately my plants are on a Darwinian plan (survival of the fittest). I lost my apricot blooms to the cold temps after 70 degree weather. The cherry trees are starting to blooms too! I think your idea of covering your tender plants is a great for the magnolia it might just have to survive on its own. I wish you the best of luck!

  5. Hi Julia! We are having the wackiest winter I can remember. I would actually welcome some snow because it acts as an insulator from extreme temperature dips (it was 3 degrees last week - F!) I wrote an article last week on using evergreen boughs from our xmas tree to insulate perennials. I think wrapping your buds is your best chance... remembering to unwrap them is the trick!

    Hope you and your plants weather it well!

  6. Last year I lost a couple of roses and a Hydrangea. Now my garden thinks it's spring and there are all sorts of things starting to grow, including the Magnolia. Frances at 'Fairegarden' said that as long as there is no color from the flower showing they should be okay.
    I'm kind of looking forward to a little snow.

  7. Oh Julia, you don't want your magnolia to share the family room with you? Why, what kind of gardener are you, LOL.

    Great idea about the stakes...will most likely need it.

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

  8. Julia, The trials of gardening! Finally we have snow - isn't that what we should have here in Wisconsin this time of year? However, I am already ready for Spring. One or two days of snow is fine by me! But enough is enough for me. I did enjoy your posting today. Love the way you write. Jack

  9. Hopefully everything will be okay. Usually a little snowfall is good at insulating the plants. It's that extreme cold on bare ground that can do my plants in. Especially the container plants which are obviously more vulnerable. Keeping my fingers crossed.

  10. It is very interesting to read all these various gardening blogs from writers all across the country. Every single one of them has the same "WTH with the Weather" thought. I've only been reading them this year so I am not sure if this is a normal occurrence. Is everyone in a fair consensus about things being awry lately? I've spent the last several years flying all over the US from late october to at times may doing aerial mapping. The relative part to that being we can't take photos with snow on the ground or leaves on the trees. After a few years, you begin to see (or think something is awry/different) about how it's not quite winter at the start of the season or that your contract is ending several weeks early because foliage is really taking off. It's difficult to tell from such a short time span (4 years) whether its micro or macro. Generally there is a sense on the winds that climate change is truly taking hold. I am interested in hearing about other gardeners whom have been taking note for the last several decades.

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Thanks for stopping by and reading my latest post! I love sharing my gardening adventures and reading your wonderful comments. Happy digging...Cheers Julia!!

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