- A second harvest purpose for the branches of Christmas trees and other holiday greens is to use them as decorative wreathing for your otherwise somewhat bare perennial beds.
- One might choose to lay evergreen branches on some beds just to look wonderful through the winter, but these branches can also do the very important job of helping to insulate the plants residing in the earth beneath them. I find this branch overlay technique especially useful wherever it can help to protect small or shallow rooted plants.
- Branches 2 to 4 feet in length cut from Post-Christmas trees or any post-wreathing materials can be used, whether yours or contributed by a neighbor.
Considerate pruning of resident evergreens can provide cuttings too. These greens can all be laid out along the edges of your perennial beds or wherever vulnerable plants are sleeping. I weave these offcut branches together by crisscrossing in an over and under way to help them resist being blown about by winter winds..
The insulation is most needed through the late winter thaws.
- It is just perfect that these lovely recycle materials are so readily available just after Christmas since the insulation this handsome wreathing can provide is most needed from January through March or so. Setting the branches out any earlier would not be better, since it is good for the plant materials to get a thorough soaking before the deep freezes set in.
If there is some snow on the ground, you can wreath right on top of it and as the snow melts, the branches will settle roughly where you wanted them. Adjust as needed.
- I apply this protective layer religiously to beds where temperature changes tend to be rapid and heaving is a frequent problem. It helps to buffer the temperature ups and downs which cause ground heaving. Snow would do much of the job of protection by itself if there were a reliable covering of it through the freeze-thaw cycles, but in this part of New England you can’t count on a snow blanket.….
- The evergreen boughs protect the plants in much the same way that hay would if it would stay put. The difference is that you will have green beauty through most of the winter, and a much easier cleanup in spring.
- In my experience, if there is any wind at all, hay straw distributes itself absolutely everywhere. Plucking it piece by piece out of the shrubberies, evergreen groundcovers, pebble paths and underdecks can prove extremely annoying. One would prefer not to make this mistake in an ornamental garden setting...
Wear Suspenders and a Belt
- Even if you have done your best to protect your plants, whenever there are are substantial thaws, you may want to scout around a bit. Locations that get alot of winter sun can thaw out surprisingly quickly. When they do, the the ground may heave up precipitously and the roots of newly established and shallow rooted plants may be lifted up too. Their roots are then out of the ground, exposed, and so could easily be killed by the next cold snap.
- To keep such perennials and new plantings safe, you need to
press the individual plants back down into the earth while it is soft.
Quickly, before the ground gets cold again and closes them out...
- Planning wise, in general it will be best to
Avoid locating small or vulnerable plants in places that the
winter sun hits heavily.
- In Britain, winter protection is sometimes conferred by sheaves of cut deciduous branches, to which the people have given the charming name of ‘twig thatch’.
- In their famously beautiful and lovingly tended North Hill Gardens, to soften some of the harsh aspects of the climate of Vermont, Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd have cut Miscanthus bundles from their own stands of these grasses before winter, and then laid them out as needed to protectively insulate the fruit trees** who also live within their ecotome.
* Don’t use limbs if the needles have begun to dry out. The fresher or moister the better.
Firs and other soft greens will be the most pleasant materials to handle.
Short needled Pine and Hemlock branches don’t last as well as most other evergreen things.
** lecture, personal communication, 2008