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Take care to protect your trees

With temperatures dipping below freezing for the first time this season, it's time to start thinking about how to keep your trees, shrubs and other plants healthy over the cold months.

Dave Lewis, one of the owners of Sargent's Nursery in Red Wing, said some can withstand harsh conditions with ease.

"A huge percentage of the plants that grow around here are meant for this area. Most shrubs and trees won't need any extra protection as far as covering for survival," Lewis said.

Others, however, could use some assistance. Known as marginally hardy plants, things like tender perennials need additional protection to survive and grow again next spring. Snow creates the perfect blanket for covering plants, but last year's winter proves that snow is unreliable. Instead, Lewis suggests covering the perennials with leaves or dry straw.

Before you jump right in, remember that timing is important.

Lewis recommends waiting until the ground starts to freeze before you cover the plants.

"You're not trying to keep them extra warm. You're actually trying to keep them cold," he explained. "By covering that you're keeping that plant at a constant temperature all winter long."

Covering the plants at the perfect time will prevent the sun from heating them up and below-zero temperatures from cooling them down.

After taking precautions against nature's elements, be sure to take precautions against nature's creatures as well. A corrugated protective tree wrap around the trunk can protect from deer, mice and rabbits.

Additionally, a tree wrap is excellent for keeping a tree from suffering sun scald. But the wrap should be white, Lewis noted.

"That simulates the color of snow," he said.

In the wintertime, if a tree isn't wrapped, the sun will reflect off of the snow and onto the bark.

"It will actually warm the bark to the point that the bark will split open," Lewis explained, adding that a large wound in the tree will attract insects in the spring.

Using white corrugated protective tree wraps is good for young trees, as well as crab apple, fruit and maple trees.

"They have a really thin skin or thin bark that can't withstand that very well," Lewis said.

Perhaps the most essential part of preparing trees and plants for winter involves hydration. Recent dry conditions have made that even more imperative.

"Those plants have been starving for moisture for three months basically," Lewis said. "The more moisture they can absorb right now ... the better chance that plant has of being able to take off in the spring and grow without any problems."

As you give your plants a late-season soaking, don't worry too much about overwatering.

"It's almost impossible to overwater this time of year," Lewis said.

Stick with one deep soaking each week for the next few weeks.

"That includes mature trees, too," Lewis added. "They have to have enough moisture to supply those 50-foot-high branches with water."

Make watering your primary focus since fertilizing and feeding plants isn't recommended this late in the year.

"The plants are shutting down for the season. That would be something that would wait until spring," Lewis said.