Dressing a Landscape for Winter

Protective measures help plants survive the crueler months.

New Englanders are accustomed to dramatic seasonal changes. Summer can be incredibly humid and hot, while winter can produce a harsh, dry cold that chills to the bone. And while they thrive in mild months, some plants in our landscapes may be poorly suited for winter weather extremes.

Cold temperatures, heavy snowfall, and drying winds can take a toll on a plant’s appearance and overall health. Winds can break or bend limbs and dry out evergreen foliage; shrubs can be crushed by snow falling off roofs, and severe breakage can damage a plant beyond repair. However, there are simple ways to protect susceptible plants, shrubs, and trees.


Vulnerable shrubs and small trees in exposed areas can be wrapped in wide swaths of burlap during the fall so that winter’s cold winds don’t burn them. Burlap fabric allows the plant to get air, while minimizing the temperature fluctuations inside and keeping the plant healthy and alive. Commercially sold tree wraps, made of vinyl, burlap, or paper, cover tree trunks for wind and cold protection, and are especially useful for small trees.


Evergreen shrubs planted in open yards are likely to be affected by winter wind, especially if exposed to the north and west. To protect these plants, drive a few tall stakes into the ground around the plant’s perimeter and staple burlap around the stakes to create a barrier. The burlap shields the plant from the winds, and the open top allows snow and rain to filter through and refresh the plant.

Leaf protection

On oceanfront properties, salt coming off the water can be very damaging to exposed plants. Winter winds and cold, in general, can dry out foliage. Heather Maciel, co-owner of Maciel Land & Tree, suggests spraying broadleaf evergreens such as rhododendron and holly with biodegradable anti-desiccant products (such as Wilt-Pruf); the waxy protective coating helps prevent windburn, salt damage, and loss of moisture.

Wooden A-frames

Accumulations of snow and ice can sometimes slide off roofs onto nearby plants, causing breakage. Homes with rooftop solar panels or steeply pitched metal roofs are at higher risk. One way to protect plants is to construct a simple wooden A-frame structure to place over them. If you’re building your own frames, make sure the top is hinged so when you take them down in the spring, you can fold them up neatly and store them away until next year.

Deer deterrents

Deer pose another threat to plants’ off-season health. According to Heather, deer forage aggressively for food during the winter months. “They will browse
on arborvitae and cedar trees,” she says. “They also rub their antlers on beech trees and Leyland cypress,” damaging bark, branches, and tree trunks.

The best way to prevent deer from harming your trees is to put up deer fencing, usually a lightweight plastic netting. “These can be constructed with stakes or rebar [reinforcing bar] at least six feet tall...with the fencing [attached] to it,” says Heather. This will keep the deer far enough away from the tree that they can’t rub or browse it. Other options include deer repellents, both commercially available (such as bottled coyote urine) and homemade remedies. Heather suggests putting some of the following around the plants you’re trying to protect: garlic, Irish Spring soap, scented dryer sheets, and human hair.

Early intervention If you have an extensive landscape or lots of vulnerable plantings, don’t wait until the first snow falls. Start preparing your landscape for the winter in October, and keep the protection up until April. By prepping early and maintaining throughout the winter, you can help ensure your plants will be able to survive the cold and come out in the spring looking fresh and ready to grow.