Ask the Garden Expert: How Do I Protect Backyard Shrubs From Winter Weather?

Our garden expert talks covering shrubs for winter, identifies mystery plants, and more!

What’s the best way to protect backyard shrubs from winter’s chill? I’m trying to grow avocado trees from pits, but it isn’t working. What am I doing wrong? What is this weird plant in my backyard?!

Each month, Birds & Blooms readers send in their burning questions to gardening expert, Melinda Myers, who is a nationally known, award-winning garden expert, TV/radio host and author of more than 20 books.

Got a gardening question for Melinda? Submit your questions here! They may appear here or in a future issue of the magazine.

Question: Which shrubs should I cover for winter, and what’s the best way to protect them? —Robin Evans of Export, Pennsylvania

Melinda: Broadleaf evergreens are the most susceptible to winter damage in colder regions like yours. Hemlocks, less hardy and newly planted needled evergreens, and shrubs exposed to drying winds and winter sun also benefit from protection. Create a wind break and a bit of shade with burlap or landscape fabric. Mount the fabric on stakes or posts placed on the windy and sunny side of the plants. Other options include decorative fencing, a pop-up plant protector or a shrub jacket. One other possibility: Repurpose a Christmas tree. Place the discarded tree so that it blocks the wind from sensitive plants. You may find that birds enjoy the added shelter, too! Further reduce winter damage to shrubs by keeping them healthy throughout the growing season. And lastly, water your shrubs thoroughly before the ground freezes. (Read more: 9 Tiny Evergreens to Grow)

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photo credit: Lowell Lehman (B&B reader)
photo credit: Lowell Lehman (B&B reader)

Question: Last winter, after severe weather left about 15 inches of snow on the ground, I checked on my plants and found a new blossoms on my scraggly old honeysuckle bush. How did that happen? —Lowell Lehman of Spokane, Washington

Melinda: Plants are truly amazing. Bad weather followed by a natural winter thaw or by artificial heat from a dryer vent, reflected heat from light-colored siding or radiant heat from your house’s south-side foundation might have caused buds to break and grow. Situations like this are always photo-worthy and provide a welcome pop of color in an otherwise drab winter backyard.

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photo credit: ceguito/pixabay
photo credit: ceguito/pixabay An avocado growing from a tree.

Question: For the past 18 months I have tried to grow avocado trees from pits. Although the pits sprout in water, not one of the plants has survived longer than six months after I transplant them into soil. What am I doing wrong? —Christa Pederson of Duluth, Minnesota

Melinda: Try these techniques to increase success when growing any young plant indoors. Always use a container with drainage holes. Use a quality potting mix; soil from the garden does not drain well when places in a container, and it may contain insects and disease organisms detrimental to your plant’s health. Move rooted cuttings and sprouted seeds into a container slightly larger than the root system, as placing small plants in a much larger pot can lead to root rot. (Read more: 6 Ways Green Thumbs Can Thrive in Winter)

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photo credit: Lisa Dahmer (B&B reader)
photo credit: Lisa Dahmer (B&B reader)

Question: Previously, this plant’s blooms were small with purple bases, but last January an enormous bright red tube emerges from the purple base. What is this plant? —Lisa Dahmer of Rifle, Colorado

Melinda: That unique flower gave this tropical plant its common name of lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus). Native to Central and South America and Southern Asia, it grows best in a bright location with moist, well-draining soil. Improve flowering on reluctant blooms with a move to a brighter location and allow it to become somewhat pot-bound. Add a specific fertilizer for flowering houseplants as needed from spring through summer.

Melinda Myers
Nationally known gardening expert, TV/radio host, author, columnist and speaker.