Sunday, February 05, 2012

Evergreen or Ever-bagged All Winter Long?

Going for long walks this winter, I've developed a pet peeve, basically a design irritation when it comes to wrapped evergreens and broadleaved evergreens. Seems to me that an evergreen is an EVERgreen and should be seen and enjoyed all year long.
I see burlap, boxed contraptions, bags, just about anything someone could use to wrap their plants. In most cases this is unnecessary if we examine alternatives and proper placement of plant material. It's unsightly to see your front yard draped in burlap each winter. Especially when there could be wonderful evergreen foliage - the only green colour available to us at this time of year!

These are roses.
I would first like to say, I am not trying to put folks down who do this: some are doing it as an effort to sustain the plant during our harsh winters, or others do it to insure a delicate shrub/evergreen establishes well enough for the first few years. It is a great practice and rule of thumb to protect when establishing new plants. However, the bulk of these photos are examples of wrapped evergreens and shrubs that have been wrapped every winter since they were planted.

I merely want to suggest and to make people aware - there are other alternatives to evergreen selections for the front of the garden. There are ways to avoid bagging plants that are meant to be enjoyed all year long. Your front garden doesn't need bagged or boxed eyesores.
Euonymus Broadleaved evergreens

Much of the evergreens I see wrapped are Dwarf Alberta Spruce; Picea glauca ' conica ', Rhododendron;  Rhododendron catawbiense (large flower and leafed variety), Boxwood varieties; Buxus x and bonsai topiaries. They are wonderful plants to add to the front yard, but if you have to wrap them each winter for the rest of their days, I believe they are in the wrong situation.

Dwarf Alberta Spruce. Most front yards have them. They're compact, look like a perfect little pudgy Christmas tree. They don't require sheering and they stay dwarf and don't take over the garden. Let's examine what they need and see if your front yard is right for it's longevity without wrapping.
  • They prefer full sun and a slightly protected spot (away from North/West strong winds). 
  • They can tolerate part shade, or dappled shade. However, too much shade and their tight branching and needle foliage habit will begin to lose shape. 
  • Slow growing, but still requires adequate spacing away from other shrubs, walls and walkways. 
  • Will struggle with root competition, so plant in rich, deep soils.
Dwarf Alberta Spruce
Most are planted too close along walkways, driveways and entrance points when the spruce is small - not taking account a mature growth rate. Front gardens are usually exposed, they have walkways and driveways which are either sprinkled with salt or heaped full of snow along the pathway. Salt damage will brown the needles. A common reason why folks wrap their evergreen.

Many Dwarf Alberta Spruce are planted along the brick wall of the house. You may think this is be a protected spot for them, but during the summer, especially if they are planted too close to a south facing wall, their situation may be compromised. Brick walls exposed to the sun will absorb heat and hot temperatures will essentially bounce back and bake the Dwarf Alberta Spruce. The heat becoming intolerable over time. Month after month of this can lead to needles drying out at the back of the spruce, nearest the wall. This stresses the little conifer, making it struggle going into the winter. It may be warmer during the winter but the damage throughout the summer compromises the evergreen.

Other alternatives to Dwarf Alberta Spruce: 
  • Clipped Pyramidal Yew; Taxus cuspidata
  • Blue Arrow Juniper; Juniperus scopulorum ' Blue Arrow '
  • Fairview Juniper; Juniperus chinensis ' Fairview '
  • Conical Boxwood; Buxus koreana or x species clipped
  • Emerald Cedar; Thuja occidentalis ' smaragd '

Rhododendrons are usually placed as a focal piece, tucked in a dark corner where their blooms want to energize a gloomy shaded spot.  However, Rhodo's require more sun than most realize. Dappled shade and or part shade is best to optimize bloom. What they mainly require to become robust, is a deep, loose, rich low (acid) pH soil. This enables their fibrous, lateral roots to retain moisture so that their buds and broad leaved foliage remain hydrated over the winter. Here's what Rhododendrons like:
  • They love rich loamy soil, with added peat moss and leafy matter (compost, pine/evergreen needles, or mulch) on top for a cushion of protection. 
  • Deep watering before the main freeze up in November and a good pile of snow underneath should be plenty if the Rhodo is situated away from sweeping winds and a sharp north west exposure.
  • Other shrubs and taller evergreens or a fence close by to act as exposure protector, buffering the prevailing winds.

Other alternatives to Rhododendrons:
  • PJM Rhododendrons (hardier variety than the large leaf Catawbiense; Rhododendron x ' PJM '
  • Dwarf Korean Lilac (sunny spot); Syringa meyeri ' palibin '
  • Annabelle Hydrangea (shadier spot); Hydrangea arborescens ' Annabelle '
  • Azalea (deciduous Girard species), Azalea hybrida x girard series

Topiary and small Rhododendron

If you have a well established evergreen that would be hard to transplant, and if you must wrap for fear of losing it - try burlap that is dyed green!

Here are ways to avoid using burlap or coverings:

1) Avoid using sensitive evergreens and salt intolerant plant material near:
  • walkways
  • driveways
  • or up against brick walls
  • tree trunks with heavy root system

    2) Summer to late fall prevention and preparation:
    • water and soak your evergreens and sensitive plant material before main freeze up (just before you turn the outside water source off)
    • wrap conical conifers with twine, so that the branches are held tightly together. This gives them a sturdy shape and avoids weight damage from heavy snow and provides less wind from passing through branches
    • give them a good sheer and cut in late summer, allowing any following growth of foliage to be tight in habit and yet fully hardened off before the winter
    • add organic matter and mulch (sustains moisture levels, helps prevent drying out from freeze to thaw and adds decomposing materials, enriching the soil over time) 
    •  for roses, cut back long straggly canes to halfway - preventing them from drying out. Mulch and or use a rose collar at the base of the rose crown to help winterize the grafted point near the soil
      3) Research your plant material. Look for hardiness zones that are much lower than your geographical zoning. The hardier the plant, the more apt it is to handle our tough winters.

      4) Examine your area for sweeping winds and strong exposures, avoid planting near them and or find ways to shield them with other tolerant plants.

      Using stakes and wrapping only the sides for salt protection.

      Finally, if you must wrap your plants near walkways, shield them rather than fully wrap them from top to bottom. Stake on each corner and wrap material around the plant tightly. That way snow, moisture and sun can reach the top of the plants. This helps to sustain them and allow good air circulation when temperatures fluctuate. For smaller establishing evergreens (like boxwood) try these NuVue's: plant covers . Much easier and less of an eyesore.
      Many sizes to buy here


      1. Oh great advice! and I also happen to think that Evergreens should be seen all year! that's the beauty of having them in our gardens! I think I need you to ruthlessly critic mine :)

        1. Haha. Ya, I hate seeing burlap - give me green, bronze...anything but potato sacks! Will gladly come to your house!


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