Five Tips For Winterizing Evergreen Shrubs

Winterizing evergreen shrubs is one of those "hot" buttons with me as a gardener.

I believe that evergreen shrubs are planted in the garden because they are "evergreen" and serve a function that way.

Evergreens are the winter color and backbone plantings for the average garden. Covering them up with burlap for the winter defeats the purpose of having them in the first place.

Most Survive Just Fine

Most evergreens will survive quite nicely without your help – they do in the wild.

But here's a few thoughts to help with your winterizing evergreen shrubs.

Feed Phosphate

Feed with phosphate and potassium in late fall. (not nitrogen)

The roots will pick these nutrients up and there is research out there that shows increased winter survival rates (particularly with yews) when a late fall feeding is done.

Anti-desiccant Spray

Use an anti-desiccant on your shrubs. This is like putting a thin layer of wax over top of them so the wind can't burn the leaves. If the sunlight heats up the leaves, a coating of wax (particularly on the bottom) will stop the leaves from losing moisture (which is why the leaves turn brown).

This material degrades in sunlight and in the wind so you'll have to reapply it in mid-winter. It will not stop the plant from growing in the spring and is the easiest and fastest way for winterizing evergreen shrubs. This is often sold as Christmas tree preservative in garden shops. Coat both the top and bottom of tender shrubs.

Shield From Salt

If you have winter burning problems because of road salts, consider putting up a solid fence to protect the evergreens. That way, the board fence stops the salt and protects your plants plus you get to enjoy the winter greenery from the house side of the fence.

The anti-desiccant works nicely for salt damage as well for winterizing evergreen shrubs if you use a heavy coat and repeat it monthly.


Covering with burlap is possible but I personally hate burlapped shrubs and consider them ugly. If you do burlap, ensure you use a lot of string to tie down the burlap securely. Otherwise you might lose the burlap in a heavy wind (not a bad thing given my love of the stuff) :-)

Grow plants that are hardy in your zone. It is mostly a search to find suitable varieties as they exist for your area for almost all evergreens and flowering shrubs. Yes, that means you won't be able to grow banana trees outdoors in zone 3 but hey – life isn't perfect. If it makes you feel any better, Southern gardeners can't grow lilacs worth a darn and tulips have to be planted every year down there because the heat kills them. Install appropriate plants for your area rather than the knee-jerk plants sold by mass merchants because they're easy to find.

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No Plastic

Never, ever use plastic for winterizing evergreen shrubs. This is a great way to smother the plant, create high humidity and icing conditions and generally kill off anything under the poly.

Do winterize evergreen shrubs after several major killing frosts. It is pointless to wrap a shrub or pile leaves over a tender plant if the mice are still active. You want it late enough in the season so the mice are happily winterized as well. Otherwise, they'll thank you for protecting a great source of winter food.

And yes, despite all your best efforts, you'll sometimes find winter damage. That's the adventure of gardening. You simply have to learn how to prune and repair winter damage.

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