Winter can be very hard on your landscaping beds. Freeze and thaw cycles can lead to frost heave, which can push plants out of the ground or damage their roots. Cold, drying winds are also damaging to plants, even in their dormant state. Then, there are the pests that overwinter in a garden bed and then attack the plants when they are vulnerable and just emerging in the spring. The following guide can help you avoid these winter problems.
Trim back excess foliage and stems
Most herbaceous, non-woody plants die back to the ground once frost arrives. Although it can be tempting to leave the dead foliage, particularly if it is ornamental in its dried state, the dead material can harbor overwintering insect pests and disease pathogens. For this reason, it is best to cut back the foliage and dispose of it or compost it thoroughly. In moderate climates, you can cut back the plants to within a couple inches of the ground. Just don't cut into the fleshy crown where the stems join the roots. In areas with frequent freezes, leave about 6 inches of stem. These will protect the crown from exposure during the cold winter days, while still being short enough to prevent most pest infestations.
Mulch is a must, particularly in areas with freezing weather and the risk of frost heave. If you had any pests or disease issues during the summer season, remove any of the old organic mulch and dispose of it, since it likely contains the insect and disease pathogens. You should also rake up and remove any fallen leaves or dead plant debris. Then, lay down a fresh 3-inch layer of mulch. Wood chips are frequently used in ornamental beds, but you can also use pine straw or seed-free grass straw. Pull back the mulch so it doesn't rest against the stems of any woody plants, though, to prevent stem rot issues. The mulch insulates the soil against frost heave.
Protect from drying winds
Herbaceous plants aren't generally at risk from drying winter winds, but small woody shrubs and plants can be desiccated. Evergreens are particularly at risk. Wrapping loosely in burlap provides protection, just make sure the top is left open for air circulation. Another option is to erect a windscreen on the windward side, using two stakes with burlap stretched between them. If you have days that are well above freezing, you can water evergreens a small amount to further help prevent winter desiccation.
Contact a landscape contractor for more help.