Two of my favorite young balsams perched on the ground, their tops buried in heavy snow, and a pine popped as moisture seeped into its core and then dissipated as it froze. Branches scattered the ground. Surrounded by the destruction winter weather can cause, carefully-wrapped evergreens suddenly made sense.
Here’s why, when and how you should consider wrapping your evergreen plants this winter.
Why Wrap Evergreen?
Evergreens glow in winter. If you’ve planted a row of conifers, they aren’t the only ones to improve the summer scene. Your evergreens also bring greenery to the winter landscape. So why would anyone cover those beautiful evergreens during their peak season?
protection for young trees
If you have strong, healthy, mature evergreens, your tree is unlikely to wrap. Most evergreens can handle the winter season without any assistance. That’s what they’ve evolved to do. But what if you just planted a row of beautiful, young boxwoods?
It’s actually very simple – wrapping can protect trees that are young, newly planted, exposed to extreme wind, or dehydrated. If you have a dry autumn, or if you have just planted a row of evergreens as the wind blows, take care of them. You don’t need to wrap them every winter, just long enough to help them grow through their first few cold seasons.
After the first few years, it’s important to treat your trees like adults. If you keep wrapping them until they are too long to wrap well, they will never develop into hardy, durable trees. So back off after the first winter and let your evergreens stand on their roots!
Young or delicate trees are especially susceptible to sunburn. When your evergreens lose their fresh, green needles and turn brown during the winter, chances are sunscald is to blame.
When the winter sun shines on your young trees, especially during an unseasonably hot snap, the needles absorb heat and light. The whole tree starts feeling warm and alive. It loosens and lowers its defences. But the winter sun never lasts long, and when the sun sets, the happy tree does not get ready for the cold soon.
In a sudden change in temperature, which happens as soon as it is out of sight of the sun, the needles become discolored, brown and dry – almost like chilblains in humans. Wrapping evergreens can help protect it from sunburn.
When to Wrap Evergreen
If you are going to wrap your evergreens, it is best to wait until the trees are dormant. Evergreens don’t lose their needles, of course. Keep an eye on deciduous trees around your conifers and wrap your evergreens when all (or nearly all) of the deciduous trees are bare.
Sometimes though, an early storm does occur. Here in the northeast, we’ve seen a blizzard in early October. Autumn snow is wet and heavy—the kind of snow that destroys beautiful, young trees. If you hear of an early storm, or if autumn is cold enough to cause one, go ahead and wrap your trees early.
There are lots of options out there including plastic, paper, fabric and burlap.
Burlap is the most popular material for wrapping evergreens, but it is also the most controversial. Burlap is breathable, which is an essential aspect of any good tree wrap. It colors and protects your evergreens, but without keeping sunlight or cold air out. This means your trees won’t be shocked in the spring when you pull back the cover and expose them to the light.
Burlap naysayers insist that the rough, dry fabric draws moisture out of your trees. They also claim that the loose weave of burlap does nothing to protect young trees from wind, snow, and sun.
But burlap is successfully used by gardeners, who claim that it protects their trees from year to year. So who is right?
benefits of burlap
If you’re thinking of tree wrapping as an opportunity to wrap your trees in a warm coat and soil, burlap seems like a poor choice. It doesn’t block out all the wind, sun or snow at all. But tree wrapping isn’t about bolstering your trees against the elements, it’s about supporting delicate trees as they stand up against the worst of winter’s weather.
Burlap provides enough support for cutting through winter, but not so much that your trees won’t learn to cope on their own. In many ways, it is the perfect material for gently encouraging hardiness in delicate evergreens.
Just be aware that burlap can absorb moisture. Be sure to water your evergreens well before the ground freezes. If the soil in your trees has plenty of moisture, there’s no need to worry about the deforming aspect of burlap wrapping.
Ready to wrap those trees?
There are two basic ways to wrap evergreens. One way allows you to wrap the tree directly, while the other lets you wrap it around the tree without touching the tree directly.
The direct-wrap method is ideal for those of us with heavy snowfall. Since your tree is bundled under burlap, it is more protected from the damage that heavy snow and ice can do. Your evergreen’s branches aren’t going to bend and break under an inch of snow and won’t endure a season turned by heavy snow.
Contact-free wrapping gives the tree greater access to sunlight, moisture, and fresh air. It’s also a great ‘transition’ wrap for trees that will be opened next winter. Contact-free wrapping creates a fence around the tree, providing shade, a windbreak and some trunk support during heavy snow. There’s nothing covering the top of your evergreen though, so snow and ice will still get inside.
Direct Wrapping Evergreen
To wrap your tree upright, start at the base of the tree. Your evergreen should be well watered and mulched.
A wide strip of burlap is ideal for wrapping the trunk. Tie it loosely with twine to the base of the tree, and wrap the top. Keep your burlap loose and supple. It shouldn’t take off from the tree, but it shouldn’t obstruct the tree either.
When wrapping, keep the burlap in gentle contact with the branches. Remember that if you bend branches to accommodate your cover, those branches will likely continue to bend. Secure your wrap with a long, narrow strip of twine or burlap in the middle of the tree and across the top.
Now step back and take a look at your wrapping. Are there any areas where wind or snow can easily loosen the wrap? If so, now is the time to secure them.
To wrap your evergreens, you’ll need three steaks as well as burlap and staples or sturdy tacks. Each stake should be slightly taller than your tree.
Remember to water and mulch the evergreen before wrapping. Now place a stake directly in front of your tree. This should be done on the ‘wind side’ of the tree. For us, this is usually the north side, but if the north side of your tree is already protected by a house or other structure, choose the other side.
Use other stakes to form a triangle around your evergreen. Drive the stakes into the ground so that they are secure. When you have a sturdy triangle around your tree, begin to spread the burlap around the stake. Stake the burlap occasionally as you wrap.
When you’re done, you should have a burlap fence around your evergreen. The fence should be as tall as the tree it is wrapping and should feel stable enough to withstand the winter wind.
When to open evergreen
Now that your trees are safely wrapped for winter, you can rest for a few months. No matter how bitter the weather, delicate trees get the support they need. But how long should they stay wrapped?
It is impossible to predict the season of spring. We’ve had blizzards before in May, and it’s been freezing cold in early June. But your trees don’t need to be safe forever. In fact, it’s better for them to face a surprise storm than to be bundled up during the early spring.
Evergreens grow profusely when they come out of winter dormancy. Besides, we all need a chance to make fir tip wines, right! So cut those trees open as soon as you see their deciduous neighbors start to wake up. When the local maples are growing and the crocuses are popping out of the snow, unwrap your evergreens and let them join the party.
Once your trees get a little older, you won’t need to wrap them any more. But don’t forget to practice good winter garden hygiene to keep your plants from dying during the colder months.