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Please Do NOT Wrap Your Hardy Evergreens With Burlap Or Anything Else
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale

email: art@artdrysdale.com

Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at http://www.artdrysdale.com


December 13, 2015

Above, newly-planted young trees wrapped in Arbotex; Below, Arbotex-wrapped ever-greens at Don Mills (Toronto) Korean Presbyterian Church. Author photos.


 



 

I didn't believe what I was hearing! Well over two weeks ago on a popular open-line gardening phone-in show, the host said definitively, "Rhododendrons in southern Ontario must be wrapped with three layers of burlap for the winter." To make it even worse, the inference was that it should be done right then. Actually the most important piece of advice he could have given was to water broadleaf evergreens well because of the extremely dry autumn we were having. Since then, we've had some rain, but watering of certain plants may still be in order.

To make a blanket (pardon the pun) statement that rhododendrons should be wrapped with three layers of burlap in southern Ontario is ridiculous. Perhaps if the plants are newly planted this year then a reason could be made for wrapping, but to wrap even old established plants is just not on. Thousands of amateur growers have these plants and provide no protection whatsoever. Just ask members of the Rhododendron Society of Canada member such as Dave Hinton near Orono. He has hundreds of plants (albeit well-sighted) and doesn't wrap any of them! And, Orono isn't exactly the banana belt of southern Ontario.

Now, unfortunately, it's not just rhododendrons that I annually see wrapped tightly for the winter by both amateur gardeners and so-called professional gardening companies. Sometimes it's even hardy, native junipers that are wrapped unnecessarily! Let me emphasize, most of what we commonly see being wrapped need not be protected at all in southern Ontario.

Why do people wrap so many hardy evergreens with burlap? A good question.

The usual main reason for planting evergreens in the first place is the fact that their foliage remains colourful all year 'round, including the winter. If this isn't an important factor, i.e. if it doesn't matter what the look is during the five or six winter months, then the choice of an evergreen in the first place was a mistake. Deciduous plants are plentifully available and there is something to fit virtually every situation--sun or shade, small or large, flowering spring, summer and autumn, good foliage colour all season and/or in the autumn, etc. etc. For example, a home I saw this week with two Euonymus 'Emerald Gaiety' standards already wrapped would have looked better with two dwarf lilac (Syringa meyeri 'Palibin') standards instead of the 'Emerald Gaiety'. The lilac foliage, having turned yellow, was just falling now, and the plant is very hardy. It does look a bit dull in the winter because of the lack of foliage, but it's at least as good as something wrapped in burlap!

My point here is if you have hardy evergreens--junipers, cedars, box, yews, euonymus, false cypress, blue hollies, PJM rhododendrons, even some of the more traditional rhodos such as 'Nova Zembla' or 'English Roseum', there is no need to wrap the foliage for the winter. No need!

Some of the more experimental, less-hardy rhododendrons, along with English ivy, firethorn and mountain-laurel, even dwarf Alberta spruce, may well need to be protected, depending on the degree of their exposure to the prevailing west winds, and thus the possibility of foliage burn. And, this applies particularly if the plants were just planted this spring or summer.

When protecting these plants, instead of burlap, I suggest using a newer product called Arbotex. It's a geotextile made in Canada by the Texel company and tested extensively in the colder Québec climate. It is white in colour, and can be saved over each year, even laundered before use the following year. Yes, it is more expensive than burlap, but since it can be re-used for many years, the cost per year of use may well be the same or less. Arbotex, and information on additional more specialized products from the same company, is available at some garden centres, and at many Canadian Tire stores. Or, check the company’s Website: http://texel.ca/en/market-seg-ments/horticulture/products/plant-protection/arbo-series.html .

Another type of product often recommended for the protection of tender broadleaf evergreens is spray-on anti-desiccants. Though these have some uses, I have never seen evidence of their value in protecting plants in southern Ontario or similar climates. Save your money!
 

   

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