This region is called tornado alley for a reason. This infamous area makes gardening a new level of difficulty. The most intense area covers Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, eastern Colorado, and South Dakota. Some other states are still in Tornado Alley but are less intense. These states are Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Iowa, Tennessee, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
With winter weather fast approaching, everyone wants to winterize their gardens to try to make the next year a little easier. Winter in tornado alley is very tricky. Winter tornadoes are subject to being particularly deadly. Not because they are stronger, but they do tend to move faster. These cold weather tornadoes are more often then not associated with strong frontal systems that form in the central states and make their way east. This is according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory.
After talking with some family in the area; I learned a lot about if and how to winterize your garden. Due to the constant threat of tornadoes, you can take some precautions. However, some precautions are practically useless if or when a tornado strikes.
In tornado alley you pretty much follow the same winterizing technics as other areas. You need to cut, chop, and clean your bushes. Make sure to “dead head” your flowering bushes to allow for new blooms to come through.
Another big step is to remove the invasive plants and weeds so they don’t take over next year. Make sure to get any and all weeds. If you have an invasive plant like mint, it would be good to uproot and pot what you want for next year. However, get rid of the excess. Some of the more invasive plants will go dormant but take over your garden the next year.
At least 6 weeks before the ground freezes, divide your perennials. If you have plants that have “bald spots” they are good to get rid of. Also plants that haven’t blooms. Divide the ones that just seem to be at the end of their life. This will assist in the process next year.
Another great technic is to give your bulbs some much needed love. Dig up and store the more tender bulbs that might not survive the freeze. Some of these types of bulbs are dahlias and cannas. Drying them out in newspaper for a few weeks and then put them in a container and cover them with sawdust, sand, perlite or vermiculite until they’re ready to be replanted is a good way to save your plants. When a hard freeze is predicted, adding an extra layer of mulch to the hardy bulbs you’ve left in the ground can sometimes help.
After dividing your plants, dead-heading, and pulling some of the bulbs; you should show your flower beds some love. Add approximately 3 to 4 inches of compost to the beds. Nutrients from the compost will seep into the bed over the winter and the thawing season. In the spring you can turn the compost into the soil for some extra help.
Spread mulch! Seriously, spread mulch. This is extremely important for perennials that haven’t had time to root fully. If possible, wait for the ground to start to freeze then add a nice thick layer of mulch on top. The mulch will help keep the ground consistently cold or frozen until spring. Failure to do this can result in the ground heaving and possibly uprooting new plants. Check the mulch in January or February to see if it has thinned due to winter stressors such as wind and thawing snow. You can always add more mulch as needed.
Evergreens need to be well hydrated. If autumn has been particularly dry then your evergreens need a deep soak. Evergreens, such as yews, and broadleaf evergreens, such as hollies and boxwoods, are susceptible to winter burn because they release moisture through their leaves through out the year. Pay extra attention to broadleaf types that have a south or southwest exposure to the afternoon sun, and give them extra water if needed.
Wrap your trees. This sounds funny but according to my landscaping friends this is really a thing. Newly planted trees (especially fruit trees) have thin bark. They can suffer from sun scald or crack from fluctuating day/night temperatures. Apparently, there are things such as tree wrap tape and plastic spiral tree protectors that can help prevent this problem.
Now, this is another one I didn’t know until I talked to my landscaping friends. Create a wind break. Exposed evergreens are susceptible to wind burn. In the fall before the ground begins to freeze, place 3 to 5 stakes on the side of your plants that will get the most wind. Putting the stakes in a “v” formation with the front stake facing windward. Once this is done wrap them in something such as burlap. This will effectively reduce the amount of cold wind that hits your evergreens. You don’t need to wrap the whole plant just the “v” you created in the ground.
Got shrubs? Tender shrubs can be wrapped in a material such as burlap to help protect them during hard or prolonged freezes. However, this wrap will need removed during warmer days and warmer weather to prevent overheating the plant. Another option is to create a “teepee” type design over the plant with some agricultural fabric. This will help with winter burn, drowning in snow, winter winds and more.
Hope these tips and tricks help! Have a safe and happy winter all!
Sources: friends and family in the landscaping business. Thank you to Steve, Jeremy, Jake, and Bernard. Also a huge thank you to my family Teresa, Debbie, Danell, and David.