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Helping Your Landscape

Mar 31, 2020 ● By Melinda Myers

Recover from Winter

by Melinda Myers

Midwest winters can be brutal and leave our landscapes in disrepair. Deciding what to prune, repair or remove can be challenging and a bit overwhelming. Monitoring the landscape, waiting for temperatures to rise and stabilize and then developing a plan can help bring a winter weary landscape back to its previous beauty.

This season, winter arrived at Halloween with snow, ice and cold temperatures. Many plants were still holding onto their green leaves when those first few snowstorms arrived. Wait until plants begin to grow to evaluate the impact of this early cold snap. Some plants may survive unscathed, others suffer a few dead branches and some new plantings and tender plants may need to be replaced. Be patient, as it can take a bit longer for stressed plants to recover.

The early cold snap was followed by unseasonably warm weather. Many perennials began growing in December just before another cold front moved in. Hardy, established plants with sufficient energy reserves may suffer some minimal damage, but otherwise be fine. New plantings with less robust root systems could suffer more damage and be slower to emerge this spring.

Fluctuating temperatures also caused the soil to alternate between freezing and thawing, causing it to shift and push some bulbs and perennials like coral bells out of the soil. With this process known as frost heaving, the plant roots are exposed to cold dry air. Walk around the garden and reset any bulbs or perennials that have heaved out of the soil.

Check for rabbits and vole damage on young trees and shrubs. Look for the exposed white wood where these critters have eaten away the bark. If any of the cambia (vessels that transport food and water) remain, the plants will recover. Don’t give up on the plant unless it’s obviously dead or there’s a need— and now an excuse—to replace it with something better.

Prune off any broken or damaged branches. Make cuts above a healthy, outward-facing bud where one branch joins another or the main trunk. Then, shape plants as needed. Wait to prune spring-flowering shrubs like lilacs and forsythias until after their spring floral display. Summer-blooming plants like Japanese spireas and Annabelle hydrangeas can be pruned before growth begins in spring. Remove and compost any leaves and twigs that may have accumulated on the lawn. Use a leaf rake to speed drying of the grass and reduce the risk of snow mold.

Locate vole trails left in the lawn as these critters scurried about in search of food. Gently tamp disrupted grass plants back into place. Plan on reseeding larger areas damaged by vole activity and winter weather in late April or early May.

Monitor the landscape throughout the spring and be patient. It’s surprising how resilient plants can be. Once the damage has been assessed, start making plans for this year’s garden and landscape improvements.

Photo credits: Melinda Myers, LLC

Melinda Myers has written numerous books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts the Great Courses How to Grow Anything DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV and radio program. She is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her website is


Free Gardening Seminar Rescheduled

Melinda Myers has rescheduled her April 18 free gardening seminar, Restoring Your Landscape After Winter. It will now take place from 11 a.m. to noon, July 18, at Pasquesi Home & Gardens, in Lake Bluff, followed by Q&A from noon to 1 p.m., with a summer gardening topic to be determined.

Admission is free. Location: 975 N. Shore Dr., Lake Bluff.  No registration is required. For more information, visit