Winter presents challenges to your garden. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Winter presents challenges to your garden. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Hurry! Winterize your garden before the arctic blast arrives

Follow these tips to help prevent freeze damage — but be prepared to do some repairs or replacements.

Forecasts are showing that the next few weeks will be very wet and very cold. Some preparation on our parts can help minimize any deleterious effects to our gardens.

We rarely see more than 10 to 14 days of continuous below-freezing weather during the winter, but despite its short duration, it can do a lot of damage. I don’t generally worry too much, as long as it doesn’t drop below 20 degrees at night and goes above 32 during the day. But when things freeze solid and stay that way for days, it can be a problem.

Here are some tips to help get through the arctic blast coming our way:

Protect container plantings. Remember, while a plant may be hardy in the ground, it’s a whole different ball game when its roots are in a planted container and surrounded by freezing temperatures. The smaller the container, the more extreme the damage, so if you have pots that are 14 inches or smaller, I recommend protecting them.

Either wrap them with burlap or some bubble wrap — I use a wonderful product designed for ceiling insulation in barns that works very effectively around pots. Don’t wrap your containers in plastic because it doesn’t breathe. Once wrapped, move the pots closer to the house or even into a cold but not freezing garage — do not put them in a warm garage. The goal is to just give them a little extra protection without waking them up.

Be sure to move them back outside just as soon as the temperatures go above freezing and stay there for a few days. For pots 20 to 24 inches or larger, I don’t sweat it.

Mulch, mulch, mulch. If you were wise and left a bunch of leaf litter on your beds in the fall, then all you need to do is gather it up around any plants that might be tender to protect their crowns. This is true for roses, especially if they are grafted.

If, on the other hand, you lean to the anal-retentive side and have already cleaned up the garden with a shop vac, then go out and buy some bales of compost and spread them around as fast as you can. You can leave the compost in place until late February, or until you see signs of new growth, and then spread it around the garden.

Leave the snow. Snow is a gardener’s friend when it comes to freeze protection. It will insulate the soil and smaller plants, so just leave it in place and let it melt naturally.

However, be ready to knock it off the branches of tall and narrow growing evergreens (like “Pyramidalis”), or they will splay out and look terrible for the rest of their lives. Any delicate branching shrubs or small trees should also get a little shake to keep them from breaking.

Water. Areas under evergreen trees and beneath the eves of houses where the rain doesn’t penetrate can be quite dry. Find a hose that isn’t frozen solid and get some water into these areas.

Stay off the lawn. The best strategy for protecting lawns, is to stay off of them. If you don’t, you will have dead footprints until spring. While this kind of damage isn’t usually permanent, it can be unsightly — so don’t put yourself through it.

Drain birdbaths and fountains. Birdbaths and fountains should be drained before a freeze, but if you can’t drain your fountain, it should be kept running. Using RV-antifreeze is also an option. Never use automotive antifreeze, as it is highly toxic to plants and animals.

Every winter presents it challenges when it comes to freezing temps. Early freezes are the worst, so at least you can be comforted in knowing that a freeze in January should be less damaging. Do what you can now and plan on doing some repair work and possibly some replacement come spring. It’s what happens in a garden.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at

Learn to prune

Attend a free class on how to prune your plants 10 a.m. Jan. 18 at Sunnyside Nursery, 3915 Sunnyside Blvd., Marysville. For more information or to sign up, visit

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