Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

October 2009

A maple along the Test Garden adds a lot of color to the downtown Des Moines skyline.skyline

Gardener Sandra Gerdes is justifiably pround of this fall combination in the Test Garden.


From the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden in Des Moines


Wrapping trunks in winter is often recommended for trees in cold climates, particularly those with smooth bark. It’s pretty good advice in some cases — if you don’t do it, you’ll find out pretty quickly which trees need it and which don’t.

Tree wrap prevents two things — frost cracks and sun scald. Frost cracks are a result of one side of a tree being warmed by the sun, which causes some expansion and (because the shady side isn’t expanding) structural stress. If it becomes great enough, it causes the trunk to split. Tree wrap keeps the sun from warming the trunk so much, reducing stress and splits.

Sun scald is a misnomer, because it’s actually freeze damage. What happens is that late winter or early spring sun warms a trunk’s living tissue, causing it to “wake up” from dormancy. In this “awakened” physiological state, it is much more susceptible to the next cold snap, and so it is damaged or killed. Same solution: wrap the tree, which keeps the sun from warming the trunk.

In my experience, this happens more to trees that are growing wtihin a zone of their hardiness limit. And it explains why–counterintuitively–this often happens to trees that are planted in the warmest spot; let’s say, in a SW facing corner next to your house. I grow Japanese maples in Zone 5. Those on the N side of my house have never had winter damage. On the S. side of my house, it’s a very different story.

Now, if you’re wondering why I’m bringing this up now, it’s because it’s not too late — this type of damage mostly occurs in late winter and early spring. So if you haven’t wrapped yet, go ahead and do it. You won’t be wasting your time.

Redbuds are beautiful small trees with big spring impact.

Redbuds are beautiful small trees with big spring impact.

Many of my gardening friends love redbuds. It’s easy to see why — it’s a small tree you can plant that won’t take up your entire yard. Plus, it can be breathtaking in early spring when the branches are covered in small pink flowers. And it’s native to areas of North America.

But the tree does have some downsides, too. Redbuds can drop a lot of seeds so you end up pulling a host of baby trees out of your beds and borders every year. And if you live a cold area such as Zone 5 (like I do), your redbuds could have trouble making it through the winter, especially if they come from the South. I have one redbud, for example, that’s more like a perennial — it dies to the ground every winter and pops up with new growth in the spring. It hasn’t bloomed in the four years I’ve had it, though by the end the season, it does make a pretty shrub.

Beautyberry is a wonderful plant for autumn interest.

Beautyberry is a wonderful plant for autumn interest.

Looking to add some zing to your yard this fall? Try beautyberry! This easy-growing shrub will delight you and the birds that visit your yard with its clusters of brilliant purple (or white) berries.

A small shrub that stays about 4 feet tall, purple beautyberry also offers pink summertime flowers that attract bees.

If the birds don’t eat all the berries by winter, then you’re in for a real treat because the purple fruits really stand out against the snow. Purple beautyberry is hardy in Zones 6-8, though gardeners in Zone 5 can grow it like a perennial and cut it back to the ground every spring.

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