We're getting into November and have already had our first frost. Many people think that this is the time that they can stop worrying about their plants until spring. Many people are wrong. There are several things we can still do to better prepare our plants for the perils of winter. Because the best offense is a better defense, we'll discuss a few preventative measures for enduring winter while helping to ensure that your landscape will have a healthy, successful spring.
Many adult female insects and eggs survive the colder months in an overwintering stage, allowing them to emerge in early spring, hungry and ready to do damage. To minimize their impact, our first preventative application for late fall will be a Dormant Oil spray. These insecticides have a wide range of control on mites, scales, and eggs while tending to be less harmful to beneficial insects and predatory mites. Besides control, a key benefit to using a Dormant Oil spray is that they are safe to humans, birds and other mammals. Applications of Dormant Oils are typically made at a 2% - 4% mix rate and must be applied and allowed to dry when the temperature is above freezing. By making your applications early in the day, the spray should have enough time to dry before nightfall. Dormant Oil works by either suffocating insects and mites, blocking their breathing pores (spiracles), or by penetrating to destroy their cells. Using a preventative insecticide application now, will save you a great deal of time in the busy spring when it comes to dealing infestations. Now that we have given ourselves a head start on pest control, the next thing we focus on is water.
When not receiving enough water from their roots, a plant will quickly begin to use up all the water they have stored in their leaves and stems.
Severe temperatures, wind, snow, and ice all take a toll on many of the plants in your landscape. Once the ground is frozen, plants have a difficult time taking up the water they need. When not receiving enough water from their roots, a plant will quickly begin to use up all the water they have stored in their leaves and stems. This is especially damaging to evergreen trees and other plants that don’t protect themselves by dropping their leaves. The unprotected leaves are then open to abuse from harsh winds which makes them susceptible to wind burn. If wind burned, the leaves will dry out, eliminating the water reserves that the plant is relying on, further damaging its overall health. In extreme cases, this can cause death if the plant was already stressed.
This is why another important late fall application is a product like Transfilm from PBI Gordon. Transfilm is an Anti-Desiccant spray that slows a plant's loss of water due to cold, dry conditions. When an Anti-Desiccant is used properly, the plant will have a protective coating over its leaves and lock in moisture. This coating gradually washes and wears away over the course of a couple months, so by spring, it should be gone. In areas where weather is more severe, consider a second application in February. Helping to secure water for your plants will greatly reduce stress, but if you really want them to thrive, they'll need nutrients as well.
Just like your lawn, trees benefit from fertilizer applications and late fall is an excellent time to provide them with extra nutrients. In the forest, trees get their fertilizer naturally from decaying leave debris, while in an urban environment, they are deprived of that. It is kind of ironic that ornamental trees can have the largest replacement expense in your landscape, but more often than not, get the least amount of care. This is why well believe that deep root fertilization is one, if not the most, important applications we can make. To learn more about this process, we recommend reading our previous post about Fertilizing Ornamentals. Now, if you have made these last two applications, we should have given our plants everything they need to make it through the winter, right? Not quite. While we have provided them with the resources, we have to make sure they don't become a resource for something else.
In the urban forest, there is a big winter problem we experience, but it isn't weather related. It is animals feeding on your landscape plants. When the ground is covered in snow, ornamental plants become the only viable food source for these animals. As we had mentioned earlier, ornamentals are costly to replace and yet it seems that every winter you lose a few to rabbits, deer, and other critters looking for something to eat. To prevent your landscape from becoming an expensive all-you-can-eat buffet for the pets you never wanted, there are couple different techniques you could use.
Covering ornamental plants with burlap protects them from the elements and hungry animals.
First, you could apply a bitter or spicy spray to your plants. Since most animals find these flavors undesirable, it can temporarily discourage them from feeding. The downside to using a spray is that a quick rain shower or small snow fall will wash off your plants and allow them to become a food source once again. The amount of time you could potentially spend reapplying this spray throughout the winter makes it a less viable solution to us. Now, our favorite technique works well and requires less effort, wrapping your plants with burlap. What we like most about using burlap is that it is breathable and allows sunlight through. It can also be easily applied and when done properly, animals will have a hard time getting through to the plant.
If you were one of the many people who previously thought that there was nothing left to do this late in the year, we hope you have learned from this article that being a little proactive in November will save you headache and heartbreak in March. If you have any questions about the topics we covered, contact your local Russo Plant Health Care Specialist. They want to set you and your landscape up for a healthy and successful spring!
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