As winter approaches, the major outdoor gardening tasks will be removing snow and monitoring for animal damage.
Install protection now for plants that are likely to be damaged by animals. It is best to keep checking your garden throughout the winter to catch any problems with animals in the early stages so that you can take corrective action as needed.
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Rabbits can cause considerable damage over the course of winter by feeding on shrubs. As snow piles up, they can reach higher and higher to eat. Chicken wire will work well to exclude rabbits.
Yews and arborvitae are deer favorites and likely will be browsed in areas where deer are active. I have not found that soap or hair hanging in branches works as a deterrent to deer feeding. Use physical barriers such as wire or netting to protect plants from deer.
When heavy, wet snow falls, carefully shake snow off plants while it is falling to minimize damage. But once the snow or ice has frozen on the plants, it is best to leave it alone and let it melt off. Trying to remove frozen snow or ice from plants can cause considerable damage.
Avoid piling up snow at the base of plants when shoveling. It is best to spread snow more evenly around the yard.
Follow directions on bags of ice melt when salting slippery areas on walks or steps. Many people apply too much ice melt, which can cause damage to walks and adjacent plants. Consider using sand on slippery areas. Mixing a small amount of ice melt in with sand can also be effective and minimize the amount of ice melt that must be used.
Calcium- or potassium-based products will be less damaging to plants than sodium chloride products. Always shovel before spreading any de-icing material.
It is a good idea to clear out the greenhouse now and wash pots and trays and benches. Cleaning your greenhouse thoroughly will reduce pest problems next year. Wash the windows inside and out to allow in maximum light over the winter. Scrub benches, fixtures and glazing bars with a disinfectant such as one part bleach to nine parts water. Make sure you rinse the disinfectant off all surfaces.
• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.