Here in Indiana, winter is a bit of mystery. We can get hit with ice and snow pretty much any time between November all the way into April, and predicting when it’s coming is difficult to say the least. That means you’ve got to be prepared—because if you’re not, ice, snow, and wind can do major damage to your landscape.
So what can you do to make sure your landscape is protected?
Add mulch. Putting down mulch is often a plant’s first line of defense against winter weather. It provides insulation that can help regulate root and soil warmth, which is key to keeping plants healthy—especially with the volatile temperature swings we tend to experience this time of year. Ideally, adding one to two inches of mulch to beds should be done in late fall or early winter, but it can still help in later winter months, too.
Remove dead leaves and debris. When snow and ice piles on top of debris, it can make it difficult for flowers, trees, and shrubs to get the air they need to breath. It’s also a perfect environment for plant fungus and diseases to thrive once melting begins, so be sure to take care of debris as soon as possible.
Use salt sparingly. Salt is often used for snow removal and as a de-icing agent—but it can cause big problems for your landscape in large amounts. When salt is applied to your driveway or walkways it can seep into the ground where it will dry out soil, causing your plants to dehydrate. If you need to use salt, only apply what you absolutely need.
Get rid of branches susceptible to ice damage. Perhaps the biggest danger to your home and landscape during the winter is dead, frozen branches. In particular, large tree limbs can cause significant damage to your roof, car, and plants if they aren’t taken care of properly. Remove any large, dead branches as soon as possible—but don’t try to do it when they’re already frozen as this can be dangerous.
Clear snow carefully. Plants and trees can easily be damaged with shovels and snow blowers. You can also damage automatic sprinklers and irrigation systems if you accidentally clip one with your shovel, or if you blow a pile of snow or debris on top of them.
Leave snow on branches. Removing snow from branches risks damaging the plant even further. Let it fall off and melt naturally to give your plants the best chance for a full recovery in the spring.
Keep watering. Your plants still need water in the winter. Unfortunately, if the ground is frozen, water can’t easily reach roots. Most plants on your landscape should be hearty enough to handle frozen ground—but you can give them an even better chance of survival by watering when possible.
Create a wind screen. Small plants and trees can be damaged by winter winds. Keep them safe by creating a wind screen—usually out of burlap or light-colored plastic. You can either create a small frame and build the windscreen around it, or in some cases (such as with a small evergreen tree), you can wrap the tree entirely. Just make sure the material you use is permeable or lightly colored so the plant continues to get sunlight.
Start pruning. Believe it or not, mid to late winter is one of the best times to prune your trees and plants. Because leaves are gone, it’s easy to tell which branches need to go—and pruning now gives your plants a healthy head start come spring.