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Landscape Prep for Winter

Posted: November 27, 2015

Some preparations can ease winter problems for home landscapes.
Preparing for ice, wind and snow is a good plan.

Preparing for ice, wind and snow is a good plan.

Before waking up one morning to a beautiful but snowy or icy wonderland, think about how winter weather will affect you and your landscape. Beyond putting the garden to bed by pruning back perennials and cleaning up, gardeners should look at their yard and contemplate winter events such as wind, snow and ice.

When you have finished raking up the last of the leaves, and clearing them out of the rain gutters, this is an excellent time to look up at the bare trees. Brian Wolyniak, Penn State Urban Forester, has these suggestions.

“Winter is an ideal time to inspect tree branches for defects, decay, or structural issues without the camouflage of leaves. Wounds, decay cavities, crooked growth, and weak branch unions are problems in the making that can be more easily spotted when the trees are bare.”

“Pruning also is easier in the winter. Instances to look for include crossed branches, dead or decaying branches, and closeness to utility wires.” Don’t forget to look for branches that overhang the house, shed, garage and driveways. Wind, heavy ice or snow can bring these down.

Wolyniak says that pruning is both an art and a science and notes that pruners should be knowledgeable about how a tree grows and will react to pruning before cutting anywhere. While homeowners can take care of some of their tree maintenance themselves, he suggests only pruning what can be reached from the ground. Call a certified tree arborist for other pruning needs.

Then there’s ice on the ground. Icy surfaces can be hazardous to your wintertime health so removing snow and ice is a priority. You don’t want to be quoting the Muppets  – “Watch out for the icy patch!”

Although safety first, gardeners also want to consider run-off damage to lawns and gardens. A special challenge is for plants near roadways, sidewalks and other hardscaped areas so gardeners might consider a salt tolerant garden. The Penn State Extension Service in Montgomery County has a demonstration salt tolerant garden with more information on their Website.

While we refer to it as the bag of “salt” at our house it’s not really salt in the bag but calcium chloride. Chemical deicers come in various forms - pellets, flakes and liquids - but research shows that pellets from 1/16" to 3/16" work faster. Regardless of the type, overuse causes problems. Only use as much as necessary. Run off of deicers from areas near roads, walkways and driveways can cause problems.

Sodium chloride, also known as rock salt, melts ice down to 25 degrees and is inexpensive but it can burn plants as well as corrode metal and concrete. It is the most harmful, seriously injuring or killing plants near sidewalks or paved areas. Additionally, when it washed into storm drains, it is a non-point source of pollution to waterways impacting fish and marine life.

Other chemical choices include calcium chloride which melts ice down to -25 degrees, which can kill plants. Potassium chloride is effective to 12 degrees and is a fertilizer; however, overuse can be deadly to plants. Urea, ammonia and carbon dioxide, works down to 15 degrees. Although used as a fertilizer, high concentrations can harm plants. Calcium magnesium acetate, a salt-free deicer using dolomitic limestone and acetic acid, is effective down to 5 degrees and is particularly useful in environmentally sensitive areas.

For areas where deicers can't be used, sand or kitty litter can provide traction but also can be a source of non-point pollution.

Wrap tender perennials to protect from wind, snow and ice. It is good to also protect any tender perennial plants by wrapping them in burlap or protecting them with windbreaks. Some shrubs such as acuba or gold dust plants and arborvitae may benefit from being wrapped loosely to keep their branches from breaking under heavy ice or snow.

Be prepared and avoid whatever problems you can as we approach our winter season.

Contact Information

Brian Wolyniak
  • Urban Forester, Southwest Region
Phone: 412-482-3455