Frozen leaf image via Shutterstock

Here in the northern hemisphere, nights are growing chillier, and it’s not unusual to wake up to a light frost clinging to car windshields and lingering garden plants. Sure, the mercury might rise when midday’s temperatures hit “balmy” levels, but that’ll change in the very near future. Those of us who are cultivating plants tolast through the colder months, or have young trees that are vulnerable to severe weather, would do well to ensure that these little wonders are protected against winter’s bite.

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If you’re the type of gardener who likes to grow veggies straight through autumn and into winter, chances are you already have some cloches and cold frames on hand to protect them. If not, or if this is your first year doing so, you can easily rig up some frames to protect your green babies. All you really need to do this is heavy-gauge wire or plastic tubing, and thick plastic sheeting (like a tarp). You can even cut a few hula hoops in half to create frames and then drape the plastic over them. The main idea is to create a shelter that will keep freezing rain and snow off your plants, but is shaped in such a way that nothing can accumulate on top of them. For garden beds adjacent to buildings, simple lean-to coverings can be ideal, as you can secure them to a wall, and then just use tent pegs to pin them down for easy access to your plants.

Garden, garden cloche, plant protection, autumn and winter
Image © Tom Chance

Ultimately, your goal is to keep your plants safe from heavy winds, rain, sleet, and snow, so as long as the material you’re using can shield the greens from all of this, you’re golden. I’ve used corrugated plastic, tarps, and even an old Mr. Turtle pool to protect garden plants in the past, so don’t hesitate to re-use whatever you have on hand. Ingenuity is encouraged!

Wrap, Wrappity-Wrap

If there are deer, rabbits, or beavers in your area, you might want to wrap tight-mesh wire netting (16 gauge or so) around the trunks of your saplings so the local animals won’t nibble the bark when hunger strikes.

Young evergreen trees need protection too, and in their case, one of the best ways to protect them is to wrap them. If your trees are less than four years old or so (or shorter than 5 feet), it’s best to give them a bit of added protection for the colder months.

Burlap, red burlap, burlap frame, tree burlap
Image © Brett Gullborg

How to Wrap an Evergreen Tree

What You’ll Need:

  • Wooden stakes (1″ x 1″ should do, but don’t use little flippy bamboo ones)
  • Heavy twine
  • Burlap
  • Utility knife or heavy scissors
You might have seen smaller evergreen trees and shrubs that were wrapped in burlap without the stakes, but that really isn’t the best approach to take. If temperatures fluctuate over the winter months, mold can sprout between the tree’s needles and the burlap that’s smooshed up against them. By using stakes, you keep the fabric from mashing against the tree’s foliage, which is far healthier in the long run. A few extra minutes of work is well worth the effort if it means not having to replace your trees the following spring.
Burlap, covered tree, burlap wrapped tree, burlap tree, winter tree
Image © Kriisi
Push the stakes down into the earth so that there are at least 4 or 5 inches submerged. Get a friend or family member to help you hold the stake tops steady while you tie them together (this is where the twine comes in handy), preferably using good, secure knots like two half hitches. Over this framework, you’ll wrap enough burlap to create a double layer around the tree. Secure the burlap around the top of the stakes with some more twine, cut away any remaining fabric, and then take another long piece of twine and wind it around the wrapped plant to secure the burlap in place. You can tie the last bit of twine around the base of one of your stakes to secure it, or you could even use a tent peg.
Mounded tree base, mounded plants, mound garden
Image © Shutterstock

Mulching and Mounding

Species that have been planted in the autumn, or those that die back over the colder months (like roses), need to have some extra protection to keep their roots warm over the colder months. If you have roses, hydrangeas, butterfly bushes, and Japanese maples, be sure to pile several inches of compost mixed with shredded bark mulch around the bases of these babies to ensure that they stay safe and healthy during the winter.

This mulching/mounding technique is really recommended for all manner of saplings and younger trees as well. It provides protection from temperature fluctuation, and helps to deposit an abundance of extra nutrients into the soil, which can only help to nourish your trees as they grow.

As a tip, you might wish to wait until the ground freezes before adding your mulch, so that it’s less likely to become a nest for rodents over the cooler months. You can also add a thick layer of fallen leaves and coniferous needles to perennial garden beds and around the base of shrubs to protect them from temperature fluctuations too.

An avid permaculture gardener, locavore, and novice (but enthusiastic!) canner, Lana Winter-Hébert joins Inhabitat after spending the last decade working as a writer and event guru for non-profit/eco organizations. In addition to her work with this site, she writes features and blog posts for Vegan Cuts, Green Pigeon, and several event planning websites based in London, UK. Currently, Lana divides her time between writing, and doing collaborative projects with Winter-Hébert: the design studio she runs with her husband. Best described as “endearingly eccentric”, she spends any spare moments wrestling with knitting projects, and devouring novels by obscure Czech writers. A Toronto native, she has recently chosen to leave that splendid city in favor of a tranquil lakeside nook in rural Quebec, where she and her Sir co-habitate with two hand-raised sparrows that live in their writing-desk.