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by Pernell Gerver

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"How to Protect Plants from Winterkill in Western Massachusetts"

Protecting your garden now for winter is one of the most important tasks you can do for all of your outdoor plants. Just about every area of the garden and home landscape will benefit from winter protection including trees, shrubs, roses, and perennials. Without winter protection, some plants will suffer damage, die back, or even be winterkilled totally. Here in western Massachusetts doing yearly winter protection each fall is a must. Recent winters have been especially hard on all sorts of plants including ones that have never had problems in this area.

Every spring I see and hear about the usual dead, winterkilled suspects like rhododendron, azalea, boxwood, hybrid tea roses, and other marginally-hardy plants, especially if they weren’t given any winter protection the previous fall, but what has surprised me most in recent years is the large numbers of plants that are considered hardy in this area that have had problems.

Trees and shrubs like rose of Sharon, holly, redbud, weeping cherry, dogwood, mountain laurel, forsythia, burning bush, juniper, cotoneaster, euonymus, arborvitae, and red-twig dogwood surprisingly were killed or damaged. Also, a large number of different perennials that have never had problems before were winterkilled.

Landscape plantings represent a large investment of time and money and as a gardener there is no more sad an experience than to go outside on a spring day to discover a cherished plant that was killed over winter.

Based on how the past couple of winters have been, it’s now more important than ever to provide winter protection to make sure that the plants make it through this winter. It’s especially necessary for any plants that suffered damage last winter.

The good news is winter damage and winterkill can be prevented and now is the time to do something about it to prevent it. With the way recent winters have been, I’m strongly recommending all outdoor plants be given their appropriate method of winter protection. Depending on the type of plant, each has its own preferred method of winter protection and now is the time to do it.

Another form of winter protection you can do now is to protect your plants from animals. Damage from animals including deer, rabbits, mice, voles, and others can be significant, but is preventable. Animals can disfigure, strip, girdle, and kill all plants including trees, shrubs, and flowers.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Mulch Strawberries for Winter after the Ground Freezes"

Q. This year I planted about 20 strawberry plants, but only about a dozen survived before I transplanted them. Should I cover them with mulch for the winter? Thank you for helping me with my gardening question!

A. It is a good idea to cover strawberry plants with a winter mulch and the time to protect strawberry beds for winter is in late autumn after the ground is frozen. Typically, that's around Thanksgiving here in western Massachusetts. When the ground has frozen to a depth of one inch, place a six- to eight-inch layer of winter mulch over the plants and in the rows. The winter mulch is a non-matting mulch that won't mat down when wet. Another winter mulching material that can be used is evergreen boughs. Pine boughs will hold their needles the longest time. When using evergreen boughs put them down in two layers. Lay down the first layer over the plants, then lay the second layer crisscrossed over the first. This mulch will protect the strawberries from the alternate freezing and thawing that heaves the plants out of the ground during winter. When this happens, roots are damaged, but worse, the plants dry out and die. The layer of mulch will keep the ground frozen all winter. In spring, gradually remove the mulch after heavy frosts are over and new growth starts. Keep the mulch handy for covering the plants during frosty weather in spring.

Click here to read more about Winter Mulch and order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

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