HOME GROWN: Snow is a natural insulation for shrubs in cold weather – The Oakland Press

home-grown:-snow-is-a-natural-insulation-for-shrubs-in-cold-weather-–-the-oakland-press

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Q: I moved to Michigan from a much warmer state and I am concerned about some of my plants and shrubs. How will the really cold weather and all the snow affect them? Should I wrap some of the shrubs in burlap to keep them warm?A: Cold weather with snow is going to be more detrimental to plants that are above the snow, like shrubs and trees. If the perennial plants are cold-rated for Michigan, most will be fine. This means Hardiness Zone 4 or above, depending on where you live.

Shrubs covered completely by snow are insulated from the worst of the winter damage. MediaNews Group photo/Nicole M. Robertson

Snow will insulate them and they will be warmer buried under than above the snow. Don’t uncover them.Woody ornamentals, which are trees and shrubs, will not do as well if the weather moved from mild to bitterly cold rapidly in a few days. When temperatures drop slowly, trees and shrubs acclimate better than they do in cold snaps. But every winter in Michigan brings some unexpected damage to some plant or other. It appears to be one of those unwritten Mother Nature laws.Shielding shrubs or small evergreens with burlap can slow the wind. But wrapping them in burlap does not make them warmer. A coat or a blanket on an animal that generates heat can keep it warmer. Shrubs do not have a way of warming themselves. Slowing the wind is as good as it gets.By wrapping plants, you increase the chance that freezing rain will cement the burlap to the plant, and it also cuts off natural light. That’s not a good idea.It may impossible to put up burlap barriers because of frozen ground now. But you might have luck with a little snow redecorating. With the amount of snow many places have on the ground, you could build a snow wall on the south and west sides instead. But this depends on if you have a snow blower or love to shovel snow.Q: I just found out that a new friend of mine will give me as much horse manure as I can transport for my vegetable garden. I always fertilize my garden with fertilizer from a bag, but with the manure, do I still do that or am I going to overdose the garden? How much is too much? Or are there other kinds of manure that would be better?A: You have nothing to worry about. If your friend is like most horse owners, they put a generous bed of straw or wood shavings in their horse’s stall. Whatever nutrients are in the manure are diluted by the bedding that is mixed in.Straw is a better bedding to have for a garden because it breaks down more rapidly. Adding manure does little to add nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium. If you added the percentages of N, P and K together, it would hardly make one percent. A typical garden fertilizer like 10-10-10 has 10 percent of all three nutrients. Manure is mainly for the organic content added to the soil. If also makes for some happy worms, soil insects and microbes that keep the soil healthy. Organic matter plus the recommended amounts of fertilizer is you best option.Consider getting a soil test to know what you need to add. Go to https://homesoiltest.msu.edu to buy a test.Get the manure and pile it up next to the garden now. If the manure is mixed with wood shavings, you could use it as a surface mulch because the wood shavings that have not broken down could leave barriers in the soil that may affect root growth. If the manure has not composted, straw also could take a while to break down. As a top dressing, the manure will break down rapidly, sifting through to the soil, and the shavings or straw will stay on the top.You will find that cow and goat, pig, poultry, sheep and rabbit manures contain less bedding, if you can find them. They have a bit more N, P and K but still not a great deal.Just don’t put manure on the plants or push it up against the stems. Keep manures that you are using as a top dressing several inches away from plants or rows with seeds that have not germinated. In the fall, turn all of your manure and bedding into the soil.As the saying goes, cheap is good but free is better.Questions? The MSU Extension Master Gardener Hotline is 888-678-3464. Gretchen Voyle is an MSU Extension Horticulture Educator, retired.

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