Winter Garden Tips for Zone 5 & 6

Your plants are better prepared for winter weather than you may think! As we pile on the layers to keep warm, winterize our vehicles for snow and ice covered roads, and spend more time inside snuggled up in blankets with a hot beverage … your perennial plants, shrubs, and trees are safely dormant.

Healthy Plants = Happy Plants

Winter Garden by FlowerChick.com

If you’ve selected hardy, healthy plants they should have no problem surviving the winter months. Before frost arrives, it’s important to water landscape plants well if rain has been scarce. Well-hydrated plants aren’t stressed, which means they’re healthier. Healthier plants survive winter better. Read on for my Winter Garden Tips for zones 5 and 6 …

Mulch to Protect from Frost Heave

One aspect of winterizing your garden is adding a mulch layer around plants to help insulate soil and protect plants from frost heave. Use a loose, non-compacting material for mulch, like chopped autumn leaves, shredded bark, pine straw, or chopped up cornstalks.

Before mulching, take a few minutes to clean up any plant debris, especially beneath disease-prone plants like your roses. Old stems and leaf material that remain in place through winter can provide hiding places for pests and diseases. Gathering debris helps keep the problem critters in check.  They’ll seek out a more welcoming site.

Snow is a Good Insulator

Snowy garden by FlowerChick.comThe cold white stuff provides excellent insulation because it contains much more air than ice.  A layer of snow will protect the roots of trees, shrubs, bulbs, and perennial plants against bitter air temperatures.

Snow helps preserve moisture in the soil during winter and provides water to the soil as it melts in the spring.  This slowly waters the emerging perennials.

A layer of snow also protects the garden from frost heave. When temperatures drop below freezing for an extended period, the soil may freeze. When it thaws, the soil literally “heaves” (swells upwards) which can snap root systems and dry out plants, causing extensive damage. Snow’s insulating properties mitigate freezing and frost heave.

Don’t Worry About Snow on Branches

Natural snowfall is nature’s great winter insulator, protecting frozen branches and roots from extreme temperatures and its weight seldom causes damage. Even when bent double by snow, the resiliency of most plants is astonishing to witness, as they spring back upright when snow is gone.

Knocking the snow off your trees and shrubs can cause worse breakage.  You may do more harm than good by brushing or sweeping the snow off branches … as low temps can make the wood brittle. Best to let them recover on their own at their own pace instead of forcing it.

Please Don’t Pass the Salt!

If you use salt on your sidewalks, driveways, or patios be careful to spread in moderation. It’s best to use as little as possible since salt can dry out the tissue of plant stems and roots.

Deicing salt is usually refined rock salt. Calcium chloride is reported to be less toxic to plants, but is seldom used because it is much more expensive than rock salt and more difficult to handle. Another alternative is to use sand and skip salt altogether.

When you shovel snow that may contain salt, try to dump it on a paved area rather than at the base of trees or on lawns or in garden beds. When the snow melts, you don’t want that salty water soaking into the soil around your plants’ roots.

We’re Having a Heatwave

It may sound counterintuitive, but warmth can actually be more destructive to winter gardens than cold. Sudden temperature swings have been more common in recent years … from bitter cold to sudden warmth and back again.

Freeze and thaw cycles can crack thin bark on young trees and prematurely trick plants into sprouting or push perennials out of the soil. While we don’t have much control over Mother Nature’s ways, the best preventive measure is a layer of mulch to insulate the soil so our plants don’t overreact to short term temperature fluctuations.

Summary

Don’t fret over your outside plants during the winter season. Plants from climates with cold winters have evolved to survive winter by going dormant.

That means not just dropping leaves and slowing or stopping growth, but also reducing the amount of water in branch and root tissues. The lowered concentration of water in a plant’s tissue acts like a natural antifreeze.

Enjoy this break from gardening duties to plan your spring garden! I love looking at the seed & plant catalogs noting which ones might look good in our yard. Great time to make lists of what you would do again, or what you want to change in your garden beds.

Explore some of my favorite vegetable seeds – a colorful mixture indeed! Includes a show-stopping variety of peppers, beets, broccoli, radishes, cabbage, eggplant and more … Eat healthy with a rainbow mix of tasty veggies!

Colorful vegetables by FlowerChick.com

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