This year’s winter broke many records here in the Boston area, and the effects of it are evident both in my home and in my garden. Of course, I am not alone – most homeowners have broken trees and shrubs due to this year’s heavy snow.
Here are a few tips on how to remedy the damage, and what to do in the garden right now.
1. Prune broken branches on trees and shrubs
Broken branches on trees and shrubs should be pruned off below the break. Most damaged shrubs will also benefit from heavy cut-back, allowing new growth to restore their appearance.
If they are not broken, branches on many shrubs like boxwood, holly, azalea, yew and juniper that were bent by the heavy snow may recover. Gently pull them back up, and tie them into position with twine, velcro or old pantyhose. (I like to reuse the green velcro that comes on lettuce from the supermarket.) To prop up bent branches, you can use the single stem green wire perennial stakes that are sold at garden centers.
2. Examine woody plants for rodent damage
Rabbits and voles can injure trees and shrubs by eating their bark or roots. This damage may not attract your attention or you may attribute it to deer, but during winters with heavy snowfall, voles will actually tunnel up through the snowdrifts and eat bark and evergreen leaves that are several feet off the ground. Carefully examine your woody plants for bark damage. Any branch girdled more than two thirds around should be cut off below the damage. If any plants are leaning at an odd angle, check to see if their root systems are intact. You may lift the shrub and see that its roots have been devoured by voles.
3. Keep deer at bay
The deer were especially hungry this winter, and found their way into many new gardens, including mine. While solid fences and deer fencing are ideal barriers, many gardeners believe that small measures may change the traffic patterns of the deer enough to keep them out of their gardens. Like other animals, deer are sensitive to certain smells, so you can try spreading the odorous Milorganite fertilizer in your garden to keep them away. Other gardeners hang bars of Irish Spring soap. You can also use repellent sprays such as Deer Scram and Repells All. Click here for a homemade spray repellent recipe.
4. Stay off the garden beds
Although it’s tempting to start actively gardening, stepping on wet garden beds and lawn areas is harmful to the soil. The soil becomes so compacted that when it finally dries out, it is a collection of rock-hard clumps. Plants will not thrive if their roots cannot penetrate these dense clods.
5. Wait on the mulch
Because its main purposes are to cool the soil, suppress weeds, and retain soil moisture, mulch is best applied in late spring or early summer. Applications made too early in the spring while the soil is still cool delay root expansion of newly planted perennials and annuals.
6. Get a head start on spring chores
Although it’s mid-April, keep in mind that this year’s spring has been delayed by 3-4 weeks. Focus on chores that you would normally do in late winter, such as general garden clean up, pruning, and cutting back perennials and grasses. This is the ideal time to prune fruit trees and summer-blooming shrubs such as weigela, butterfly bush, redtwig dogwood, and spirea. You can also start seeds and summer flowering bulbs and tubers indoors to give them a head start on spring.