Protecting Trees and Shrubs Against Winter Damage

Five Seasons no longer services residential properties however we do offer tree and shrub services for commercial properties. Check out our gallery of commercial landscape projects here.


Ohio winters can be quite harsh. Trees and shrubs face a range of threats including cold, dry winds that dry out the trees, heavy snow that breaks branches and limbs, and freezing temperatures that burn plants’ leaves. Luckily, these can all be prevented with the right planning and effort.

Newly planted shrubs and trees should be protected the first few winters until they are well-established and can survive on their own. Less-hardy plants and potted plants may need protection every winter. Here are some tips on how to help your plants flourish in the cold, from Five Seasons Landscape Management.

Protect your plants with burlap.

Burlap is a popular product used to protect small trees, shrubs and potted plants from winter frost, snow and ice. It’s more effective than plastic because it allows the plants to breathe and the air inside to circulate, which prevents heat from getting trapped. Burlap is also eco-friendly, biodegradable, strong and affordable.

Where to buy burlap for plants

Burlap can be purchased as bags, blankets or fabric rolls. You can find burlap at home improvement stores like Lowes, big box stores like Walmart, and local fabric or craft stores. Natural burlap sold on rolls comes in different lengths and is easy to cut to size.

How to use burlap to protect plants

You can use stakes to set up burlap as a windbreak or wrap the plants with burlap, securing it with twine. Since these methods are so common among gardeners and landscapers, there are many instructional videos online you can view to help.

Winter mulching for plant protection

Mulching is one of the best lines of defense against cold winter temperatures. Whether you prefer traditional bark mulch, pine needles, straw or leaves, timing is everything. After applying the mulch three to four inches thick, pull some away from the trunks and stems of your plants so they can breathe.

When is the best time to apply mulch in fall?

Winter mulching is different from mulching in the spring and summer. When mulching for winter protection, it’s important not to mulch too soon. The best time is after the ground starts to freeze but before the first big snowfall. In Ohio, this usually occurs in November.

Why is winter mulching important?

The goal of winter mulching is to keep the ground around your plants frozen so the plants remain dormant. The thick layers of mulch protect the ground from the warmth of the sun. In addition, winter mulching helps conserve the water in your soil, so make sure you keep watering until the first major frost.

Salt can damage plants in winter

Did you know that salt and other de-icing products applied to the streets in winter can damage trees and shrubs? In fact, it can even kill them. Sure, it’s cheap and easy to apply, but rock salt is a concentrated and corrosive material that not only hurts your plants, it can also damage your driveway and burn your pet’s paws.

3 ways to protect your trees and shrubs from salt

You can’t control what your city uses to keep the roads clear and dry, but you can try to reduce or avoid the damaging effects.

  1. Don’t use salt
    If you have plants near your driveway or walkways don’t use salt to melt the snow and ice. Worried about slipping? There are alternative and eco-friendly products you can use such as sand, gravel, birdseed and kitty litter.
  2. Clear away snow piles
    Snow plows usually leave behind large piles of snow and chunks of ice at the end of driveways or on tree lawns that contains salt and other de-icing products. Make sure to clear this tainted snow away from your plants for added protection.
  3. Put up barriers
    If you have trees or shrubs near the road or alongside your driveway, put up plastic fencing, snow fencing or burlap barriers to keep salt spray away from plants. Once spring comes around, flush the surrounding soil with water to push residual salt beyond your trees’ root zones.

Whether you use burlap, mulch or other protective measures, taking the time to prepare your trees, shrubs and plants for winter is worth the effort. Looking for more tips? In a previous article we discussed four ways to protect your plants from winter damage. If you have any questions, please contact Five Seasons Landscape Management. We provide commercial and residential landscape services and have experts on staff who can help!

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