Preparing for the worst & hoping for the Best
If you don’t know your hardiness zone, click on the map above or check with your local plant nursery and garden centre. For other parts of the world click here for their hardiness zones.
Dry soil: Despite fall rains, dry soil exists where gardens are protected from rain (under eaves and trees) and those in containers. Arid soil reduces plant hardiness and resilience to freezing temperatures. Water before freezing temperatures have the chance to suck even more moisture out of the plants and soil.
Easy on Cutting Back: Perennials that are cut back to ground level have nothing to protect the crown and roots. Cut back stems ot 4 to 6 inches above the ground and mulch.
Easy on the Pruning: Don’t prune trees and shrubs after September as this promotes new tender growth, which is easily killed by frost. This includes hedges btw.
No Nitrogen: Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers (first number highest) as it promotes lush new leaves that are quickly killed by below freezing temperatures.
Wherever you live in Canada and elsewhere it’s important to know your hardiness zone so you can protect the plants that aren’t so tough. it’s important to know how cold and how long winters last where you live. Conditions also play a factor in plant hardiness. Dry soil, soggy soil, exposed areas, windy areas, high elevations, low spots – they all influence how a plant survives winter.
I live in southern coastal British Columbia, which is USDA zone 8. In this moderate oceanic climate, most plants don’t need winter protection when left outside in the ground except for pineapple lily (Eucomis autumnalis), freesias, fuchsias, elephant ears (Colocasia spp.), Australian tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica), New Zealand flax (Phormium spp.), hardy bananas, tender succulents, Chinese windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) and any newly planted plants.
However, in the Fraser Valley the influence of the Pacific Ocean wanes as temperatures drop well below freezing. On the other side of the Rocky Mountains, the conditions are more in line with Alberta and don’t resemble the temperate conditions of the coast. The closer to the ocean, the more temperate and that’s why the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, and the Sunshine Coast are in at Zone 7 and 8.
Further inland, the Okanagan Valley is Zone 4 and 5, Prince Rupert is zone 6 and 7. Up north, Prince George is a chilly zone 3 with the Peace River region being the coldest zone at Zone 2. Obviously protecting plants is an essential part of garden management, as well as correct plant selection.
The easiest and most convenient way to protect roots and crowns is with a few inches of soil, leaves or straw. To protect the above ground portion of plants, wrap with layers of burlap, sheets, tablecloths, and even cardboard. Don't use plastic, as it has no insulating value.
Cage bananas, palms and tree ferns with chicken wire and fill with foliage or straw. Tie pyramidal, round and upright evergreens such as cedars with twine to prevent heavy wet snow from destroying their shapes.
To protect palm trees, wrap the top with fabric and nestle a string of 7 volt, non LED outdoor lights, such as Christmas lights, nestled in the growing bud of (where the fronds emerge at the top of the plant). Turn on the lights when temperatures go to below freezing. To learn more about Banana & Palm Winter Protection click here.
Drying cold winds suck the moisture out of evergreen plants from conifers ex: spruce to broadleaf evergreens ex: rhododendrons. This desiccation is responsible for winter damage and winterkill. Wrapping plants with burlap and other breathable material works, but another option is to use an anti-desiccant, also referred to as an anti-transpirant. The most common one available in Canada is called Wilt Pruf.
Apply to plants to reduce stress during drought, winter, transplanting, drying winds and other inclement conditions. Anti-desiccants also prolong the life and safety of Christmas trees. Before bringing your cut tree inside follow the product's instructions and coat thoroughly. Allow to dry then bring inside, place it in its tree stand with water added, then decorate.
Protecting Container Plants: Remove any drainage trays underneath the planters. To overwinter planted ones that will not be used for seasonal displays, relocate them to a protected area against the house or sink the pots into the ground. Another option is to insulate roots by wrapping the containers with bubble wrap, Styrofoam, blankets, mats etc.