Wrapping up your plants for winter
Finish your winter digging if conditions allow
Garrya eliptica 'James Roof'
I just happened to be in Blarney, County Cork in early December and decided, against what I thought was my better judgement, to have a look at the castle grounds. I had been there many years before but I had only retained the memory of a tourist procession to kiss the famous stone, coach parks and gift shops. As far as the ground were concerned the entrance fee was worth every cent. There are some magnificently impressive old trees in the castles park lands, many ancient, and still impressive despite it being winter leaving most specimens bare of foliage. In fact this added to the experience as it was early morning and the sun was just breaking through a heavy mist while I walked around. This created an eerie melancholy atmosphere with the bare branches dripping with heavy dew.
I went looking for the fern garden as in those conditions I thought it would be particularly evocative. Following a path through some heavy woodland arising from the mist in the distance came into view what at first appeared to be some ghostly apparitions, a number of figures shrouded in white. As I was quite alone, as the whole castle grounds were empty, I am not ashamed to say that I stopped in my tracks. As I drew closer I fancied that the white shrouds were in fact stautes. As I drew closer still my bravado returned as it became apparent that the ghostly figures were in fact tree ferns wrapped in horticultural fleece. My inititial fears was somewhat backed up by the fact that some larrikin had stuck black eyes on what would be the head area of the prospective ghouls.
This recounted story is a long winded way for me to get round to suggesting that you be prepared for any cold snap and protect any vunerable plants as and when it is needed. Although Blarney castle provided me with a definite chill factor I wouldn't follow their lead and permanently cover up plants unless they are super tender.The reason for this is that in Ireland we can have a temperature swing of 10 degrees in a couple of days and I would rather have my tender plants exposed to a 10c to14c degree warm winters day than be wrapped up and over cosseted. I want my plants to acclimatise and harden to their environment as much as possible.
This means knowing your garden conditions, local environment, plants and by keeping an eye on the weather forecast. The Royal horticultural society has a 'Hardiness rating' which is staged from H7- around 20 to 25 degrees centigrade below zero to H1a which is tropical. Our main concerns in Ireland are with plants that fall into the H3-light frost and H2 no frost bracket. With a little research you will find that most plant profiles, in books or on the internet, will give a hardiness rating either based on the RHS model or the American hardiness zones detailed 1 to 11. Bear in mind too the wind chill factor as this can be equally as damaging as still frosty weather. With garden centres looking to sell us more and more borderline hardy, albeit beautiful plants, it is important to arm yourself with this life saving knowlege.
When covering up plants try to keep the protective fabric off the plant itself if possible, this can be done with a framework of wooden stakes or bamboo canes. The protective fabric can be various things. Horticultural fleece, which will give around 5 degrees of protection or slightly less than double if two layers are used. Old sheets and blankets can be used but their protection level is not quantifiable but must be at least that of a layer of fleece.
If using plastic sheeting be additionally careful that the sheet is not touching the plant as this will burn any foliage it may touch during a heavy frost. If using an opaque material be aware that prolonged darkness may damage your plants even if it is deciduous. In general the older and more mature a tender plant is the hardier it will become therefore young or new plants are particularly susceptible to cold weather.