The most important part of maintaining your outdoor plants during the winter involves choosing plants that are designed to withstand the cold Chicago-area temperatures. However, even the hardiest plants may still require some maintenance. Below are some of the best expert tips available for maintaining your outdoor plants throughout the winter and ensuring their beauty for many seasons to come.
Like most other things, prevention is the best medicine when it comes to landscaping and gardening. The USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map is an excellent way to choose plants that are more likely to survive a harsh winter outdoors. Zones do change from time to time, so be sure to check it each year, and check it again each time you plan any changes to your landscaping.
Other ways to plan for a cold winter involve keeping more fragile plants out of the wind and using mulch to your advantage. For woody plants, use a layer of mulch at least two inches thick, and be sure to leave an inch of space between the mulch and the plants’ main stems. If you are using mulch for perennials that die back every winter, simply cover them with two inches of mulch to serve as insulation.
Overwintering is a process that involves bringing plants that are not hardy enough to survive a cold winter into your home (or another climate-controlled environment) during the cold season. Many people prefer simply replacing their annuals each season, but it is possible to keep them alive and healthy by bringing them into your home, garage, or even greenhouse where they can receive ample sunlight and warmth. If you have the room, and if you’ve planned for overwintering by keeping plants in pots and/or hanging baskets, it can save you time and money.
It is important to bear in mind that most homes will not provide enough sunlight to outdoor plants, though there are exceptions, such as homes with large, heated sunrooms or greenhouses. It’s also important to remember that you must control the humidity as well as the temperature in order to successfully overwinter your plants.
If it isn’t possible to overwinter your plants, you may be able to successfully save them by wrapping them appropriately. Potted plants can be wrapped in bubble-wrap (or hessian made from jute or hemp) to prevent frost from penetrating the pot and potentially killing the root system. You can wrap the plants themselves, too, in materials like horticultural fleece. This will not only reduce frost penetration, but it will also protect your plants from the wind. If the plants are especially tender, consider utilizing some straw between the plant and the fleece for extra insulation.
With both methods, it is imperative to secure your wrappings with garden twine to prevent the wind from carrying the hessian, bubble-wrap, or fleece away. Tie the twine tightly enough to secure the covering and keep any straw inside but be sure that you don’t tie it tightly enough to break the tender plants inside.
The most important thing you can do to keep your landscaping looking amazing year after year involves choosing the right plants for your climate and zone. Aside from this, overwintering certain plants, wrapping others, and utilizing mulch as an insulator can go a long way toward keeping plants alive during the winter months.
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