Assessing the Ravages of Winter
This past winter was a hard winter on many local landscapes. A lot of perennials that normally survive our winters did not this year, as well as some shrubs and trees.
By now most overwintering plants should be showing some signs of life. I have noticed that some of the shrubs at home experienced a lot of winter kill as the branches are dead, but the plant is producing new shoots from the roots.
Other shrubs have only a few branches showing signs of new growth and the rest of the branches are dead. It depends on the severity of the die back as to what needs to be done.
If there is only tip kill, the dead tips are pruned off to where there is healthy plant tissue, and the plant should be fine. To find the healthy growth you can first look for healthy buds or leaves, or scratch the outer surface of the bark to see if it is green underneath the bark. You can also bend the branch and if it is dry and brittle and snaps it is dead. If it bends and is pliable there is still life in it.
In the case where all the branches are dead, and the plant is coming back from the soil surface, cut the dead stems back to 5 cm, being careful not to harm the new growth.
Plants that have a mixture of both dead and life branches, should have the dead branches removed. You may find that there will not be as many blooms on those early blooming shrubs that form their flowers a year in advance, but there is always next year!
If you are not sure whether a plant is dead or alive, wait and see before removing the entire plant, as sometimes it can surprise you.
Sometimes you wonder if a severely damaged plant is worth saving. That depends on how severe the damage is and how it affects the appearance of the shrub. Will it take a long time for the shrub to look good again, and are you willing to wait. Other considerations would be the cost of the plant. If it is easily replaced at a small cost, perhaps that is the right choice, as it will add to the appearance of the landscape, especially if it is in the forefront of the landscape. A reason for saving it, could be if it has sentimental memories attached to it. We are more willing to be patient with plants that were given as gifts or are rare.
Perennials really took a beating this winter. Perennials that have survived for several winters did not come back this spring. The cold temperatures we experienced in November with no snow cover was very hard on plants. By now most perennials should be showing some sign of life. You can carefully dig down and look for new shoots or healthy roots and if there is none, the perennials is most likely not coming back. Some perennials re-seed themselves and these will come back as new plants.
Some tips to prevent winter kill is to use plant material that is zoned for our area. The Prince George area is a zone 3, so plants that are zoned 3, 2, or 1 are hardy enough to withstand our winters. Avoid fertilizing plants after mid August as you want plants to go into dormancy before winter sets in. Keep soil moist during the fall as moist soil holds more heat than dry soil and plants roots should not be allowed to go dry. Keep plants healthy and stress-free during the growing season so that they are strong and healthy going into the winter. Extra mulch on newly planted or tender perennials helps, as well wrapping and staking certain trees and shrubs that benefit from some extra winter protection.
Jos Van Hage owns and operates two Art Knapp Home and Garden Centres in Prince George:
- Highway 16 West at Kimball Road
- Highway 97 North at Northwood Pulpmill Road