Winter Prep and Care for Ornamental Trees and Shrubs

November 1, 2021

In regions that experience seasonal cold, most plants are hardy enough to get through winters on their own. Ornamental trees and shrubs, however, need a helping hand to ensure that they greet the arrival of spring at the peak of their health and beauty. Major tasks like removal of dead or damaged limbs should be handled by a professional arborist. But homeowners can handle the two basic elements of winter tree and shrub care themselves (although some may choose to hire a service).

1. Continue to water until the ground freezes. Some people have the mistaken impression that it’s okay to stop watering when the weather starts to get cold or when plants are visibly dormant. Many ornamental trees and shrubs will benefit if you continue your usual watering regimen until temperatures fall below freezing and stay there, when the ground can no longer absorb water. Some may require less water; it’s best to do some research on specific varieties. The takeaway is that most trees and shrubs need at least some water to supplement winter rainfall and snow.

2. Add a layer of fresh mulch. As we regularly mention, mulch helps soil to retain moisture and provides insulation to regulate its temperature and protect roots. Be sure to follow the two basic mulch rules: First, keep mulch at least four inches away from the base of the plant it surrounds to protect the plant from rot and disease. Second, resist the temptation to pile it high. The appropriate amount depends on the material; for example, a layer of wood mulch should never be more than two to three inches thick.

One more tip: Be extra attentive to any newly planted saplings and young shrubs. As you would expect, they are especially vulnerable to colder weather. For example, they may actually need more water as temperatures fall.

Follow these simple guidelines and your efforts will be rewarded when your ornamental trees and shrubs emerge from dormancy with lush spring growth.