Wreathing the Beds

Greens After Christmas Rust-line1151093480-724_edited-1copper-line1_edited-1

  • A second purpose for the branches of Christmas trees and other holiday greens is to re-use them as decorative wreathing for your otherwise somewhat bare perennial beds, but the reason to use them is usually to help insulate plants residing in the earth beneath. I find this branch overlay technique especially useful wherever it can help to protect small or shallow rooted plants, often in the front and middle ground of the planted beds.
    The branches help to buffer the temperature ups and downs which cause the earth movement. I typically apply this protective layer to beds which get alot of sun in winter, where temperature changes tend to be rapid and so heaving is a frequent problem.
    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..

    Branches cut roughly 18″ to 48″  from Post-Christmas trees or wreathing materials can be used, whether yours or contributed by a neighbor. Waiting until this time of year to prune your evergreen trees or shrubs can provide useful cuttings too.
    I weave the branches together by crisscrossing in an over and under way to help them resist being blown about by winter winds.
    These greens can be laid out along the edges of your perennial beds or wherever vulnerable plants are sleeping.
    Or One might choose to lay evergreen branches on some beds just to have them look wonderful through the winter.
    The insulation is most needed through the late winter thaws.
  • It is just perfect that these lovely evergreen 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 wreathe right on top of it and as the snow melts, the branches will settle roughly where you wanted them. Adjust as needed.
  • 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...

    Double Safe
  • Even if you have done your best to protect your plants, whenever there is a substantial thaw, you may want to scout around a bit and see if any plants have been heaved up out of the ground. Locations that get alot of winter sun can thaw out surprisingly quickly. When they do, the the ground may pop up precipitously and the roots of newly established and shallow rooted plants may be lifted up too. With their roots exposed, they could easily be killed by the next cold snap.
  •  Quickly you need to press the individual plants back down into the earth while it is still soft, before it gets cold again and the ground closes out their roots..

For your future planning, try to avoid locating
delicate plants
in places where the winter sun hits heavily.
In Britain, winter protection is sometimes conferred by sheaves of cut deciduous branches, with 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 used cut Miscanthus bundles from their own stands of these grasses. They are laid out as needed before winter 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

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