There are a few more tasks that need attending to before winter enfolds the gardens.
For shrubs exposed to winter winds and prone to its desiccating effects on their leaves, such as rhododendrons and dwarf Alberta spruce, protect them with a burlap barrier. Place the barrier 4 to 6 inches away from the plant’s limbs on the south, southwest and windward sides. If a plant in a previous winter has shown injury on all sides, surround it with a barrier and leave the top open for air and light penetration. Never fill the space between the plant and the burlap with leaves. The burlap also protects plants from deer browsing.
Photo by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp of Hoosier Gardener
Young trees and those with a thin bark are often damaged by sun scald. Sun scald is characterized by a long sunken or cracked area of bark found on the south or southwest side of the trunk. On a cold winter’s day the sun can warm the bark to the point where it becomes active. When the sun is blocked, bark temperatures drop rapidly, killing the active tissue. Sun scald can be prevented by wrapping the trunk in late autumn with white plastic tree guards or commercial tree wrap. This also protects the trunk from deer rubs when the bucks grow antlers. Be sure to remove wrappings in late spring.
Protect the lower trunk portion of young trees from mice and rabbits. Use mesh hardware cloth rolled and fastened into a tube around the base of the trunk, leaving about a half-inch space and buried about two inches into the soil. Be careful not to damage the tree’s roots. I often cut a notch into the wire as wide as the root so the mesh tube will set deep enough into the ground.
Mulch is great as a weed barrier and it helps retain moisture. It also protects plant roots from freeze-thaw damage. This damage is caused by the sun warming the soil surface and ‘waking-up’ the root system. Like sun scald, when temperatures drop suddenly the activated tissue is killed. Pile on extra leaves at the base of shrubs and trees to keep soil at an even temperature. For newly planted plants, the mulch will also help protect against heaving from freezing soil.