Winter can be tough on landscaping, expert says

Winter can be tough on plants, expert says
Published: Jan. 11, 2023 at 6:10 AM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Gardening probably isn’t a top priority this early into the year, but there are a few ways you can protect your plants from Old Man Winter.

“The issue with plants is not how cold it gets, it’s the fluctuation and we’re seeing that a lot more with climate change,” said Sue Gwise, who is a horticulturalist at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. “We get these really warm temperatures like we had recently, then it drops down to minus 30, then gets warm again, and this really confuses the plants.”

If you’re a plant lover, you may notice your outdoor plants getting a beat-down by mother nature this winter. One problem has been the heavy snowfall sliding off roofs and crushing unsuspecting shrubbery.

“This guy back here, he’s uprooted, and I don’t think we could get him upright again,” Gwise said, inspecting a plant.

Another problem has been salt.

“It’s detrimental to plants,” Gwise said. “It filters down into the soil. The high salt level can cause leaf browning on the plant and if it happens year after year, it can eventually kill the plant.

If you have a sensitive plant by the roadway, salt spray will likely brown its needles.

“We don’t recommend planting evergreens along the road because that’s what happens,” Gwise said.

But winter weather isn’t all bad.

“Snow actually can be beneficial because it’s insulating, o perennials, if they’re covered with snow, that’s an insulating effect and helps them overwinter better,” Gwise said.

But what happens in a year like this one where we’ve either had mounds of snow or green grass?

“In years we don’t have a lot of snow cover, that’s when we lose a lot of plants,” Gwise said.

So, come springtime, you may see some scraggly landscaping. The best thing to do is rip out the dead plants and plant new ones that are more tolerant of cold, snow, and salt — and in places where they’re less likely to be disturbed.

If you have questions about your landscaping, you can call Cornell Cooperative Extension at 315-788-8450.