How to Grow: Winter Plant Protection

Learn how to protect and care for your plants from winter’s wind and cold. Includes information on protecting trees and shrub from mice, voles and deer, protecting evergreens with anti-desiccant sprays and burlap, protecting hydrangeas and roses with covers and mulch.


One of the last chores we do in our garden each year is plant protection. Living in a zone 5 climate we have a lot of cold temperatures, cold winds and, of course, critters. So we need to protect our trees and shrubs for the winter.

One of the first things we do is use tree guards on young trees and shrubs. These will protect them from mice and voles girdling the trunk. Tree guards can be made from plastic or hardware cloth. Wrap the tree guards about 1 inch below the soil line and as high as a normal snow depth in your area to prevent those mice and rabbits from chewing on the bark and girdling your tree. A tree that’s been girdled by animals in winter may or may not survive. If the girdling went all the way around the tree, it’s most likely it’ll eventually die. Remove these guards in the spring.

If you have deer in your area you’re going to need to protect your young trees and shrubs with fencing. You can use wire fencing or plastic fencing wrapped around the tree using a stake. You can also spray a deer repellent to ward off these critters. Some, such as this Plant Skydd, will last for months into the winter cold.

There’s another problem in our climate and it’s not the absolute cold temperatures. Cold isn’t so much the issue but it’s the wind that dries out the leaves and needles. Evergreens continue to transpire moisture all winter. They sometimes can die by drying out. For young evergreen trees and shrubs, such as pine spruce and rhododendron, try spraying an anti-desiccant spray in late fall as long as the temperatures are above 40F degrees. This covers the needles and leaves with a waxy coating that helps prevent desiccation in winter. Repeat again in midwinter during a warm spell.

Another way to prevent damage on tender evergreens, such as these Pieris, is to create a wind block. Drive stakes around the plant, wrap wire around the stakes, and then wrap burlap around the wire. But don’t let the burlap touch the leaves or the plants because they’ll actually desiccate faster than if they weren’t protected at all.

Roses are often tough plants to get to overwinter in a cold climate. Landscape roses, like this one, and species roses usually are tough enough to survive the winter without protection. But English roses, hybrid tea roses, and floribunda roses often will need protection in any place colder Zone 6. While there are rose cones and various wraps you can buy, the simplest solution is to use wood chips. Wait until late November or early December once all the rodents have found winter homes, then pile a 1 to 2 foot deep mound of woodchips or bark mulch on the top of the crown of the roses. Don’t worry if the rose stems are still sticking out of the mound. If the weather is warm in winter they’ll survive. If not they’ll die back to the mound. Wait to prune until early spring when you can see where the winter die back is. In spring remove the wood chips and use them as mulch.

You can use this same technique to help the blue hydrangea overwinter and produce more flowers earlier in summer. It protects the old wood, where the earliest flowers will form, from the cold temperatures. So by using tree guards, wind blocks, anti-desiccant and repellent sprays, and wood chips you can protect your trees and shrubs from winter and hopefully by spring they’ll be growing strong again.