We have our first snow of the season coming this week and I’m so far behind in the garden. I scrambled to get my DIY Winter Plant Protection over my sage plants today. Learn a few tricks from our ancestors on how to protect herbs and tender perennials. The best part? It’s cheap!
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How the Colonials Gardened
I was reading along in my Vegetable Gardening The Colonial Williamsburg Way and realized that there was a better way to winter protect my sage plants. For winter plant protection, I usually just mound some leaves around the base and some straw over the top, weight the sides down with compost and call it good. I just pray the snows falls before the wind blows it all away. I could use chicken wire to create a cage for fall leaves and straw to cover the sage but I do not, repeat do not, like dealing with chicken wire because it’s obnoxious.
In Colonial Williamsburg, where gardening in an historic art form, they make all their garden structures by hand, from pollard and coppice wood that they grow themselves. What they build is so beautiful that I was inspired.
DIY Winter Plant Protection, in brief
I grabbed some of my willow branches and created a quick tepee. Then, with a few of the Virginia creeper vines we just pruned, I wove a kind of basket to hold the leaves in place over my sage. To learn how to weave with vines, click here.
This would work equally well with any herb or other perennial you’d like to give a leg up this winter. In a more moderate zone, this kind of winter protection for sage probably wouldn’t be necessary but our temps can dip to below zero in winter. And, most deadly to semi-woody and woody plants, we do this yo-yo freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw thing in May that causes cell damage in sap swollen plants anticipating spring.
An extra thermal layer of some light, organic material can really help prevent permanent damage to your beloved herbs. There are step by step instructions below.
There are all manner of tools we could BUY for winter plant protection but they only sell said items to people with money. Its almost Christmas, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t have extra moolah laying around to spend on something I could just as easily make myself. The only hard part is convincing myself to go outside in the cold!
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Build your DIY Winter Plant Protection
We’ve built willow structures before – we’ll be posting later this week about how we made the willow house in our children’s garden and I’ll link it here for your later use. That playhouse was an epic build; this was very easy and swift in comparison.
The first thing you need to do to build your winter plant protection is to harvest 6-10 slim willow branches (or any slim but strong branch available to you), about 2-4 feet long. The length depends on the width and height of the plant you’re trying to protect. My sage plants were easily covered with 4 foot willow whips. Strip your whips, the willow branches, of all leaves – save them to add to the leaf pile over your plant.
Plunge the widest end of the whips about four to six inches into the ground, using each whip to form a circle around the base of your plant. I waited too long to get to this project and my soil has already started to freeze so I managed 2-3 inches. Whatever.
Gather the whips at the top and tie them together with twine. Fun Fact if you’re using willow: willow contains auxin, which is a powerful rooting hormone, so you can expect that one or all of your willow whips will sprout leaves next year if they survive the winter. In fact, you can use willow twigs to make your own rooting hormone application for propagating plants, including growing from seed.
Gather some vine strands, thinner willow whips or even some garden twine and weave a simple cage at the base of your teepee to hold in the leaves and any other organic material you want to put on for winter plant protection. To learn how to weave a basket-type section, you can visit our post on making rustic vine baskets. Or wreaths, which is simpler but similar.
Basically, you wind the vine in and out, in and out around each of the tepee poles – wedge your first vine end into the weave once its complete. Go all the way around in the circle several times until its a wide enough catch for your leaves. Secure each new vine into the previously woven vines.
Be sure to pull firmly but not too tightly as you weave so that the weave stays where you want it to but doesn’t suck in your tepee poles. You also want to be careful not be so forceful that you break a willow whip. If you do, just yank it out and use it for kindling.
One word of caution, if you live in a place with high winds like I do, don’t make these unnecessarily tall. You need just enough height to get the winter plant protection job done. You could use other materials like tomato cages to create the same thing but I don’t buy those anymore because I grow so many tomatoes that cages aren’t economical…or really that effective come to think of it.
Gather some fall leaves – brown is better but freshly fallen will do. Carefully fill your tepee with the leaves all the way down to the base, pushing back the plant gently so that the leaves form a barrier between it and the outside. Fill all around and on top. It wont be perfect and you might have branches of your plant try to escape but it will serve.
Would you use something else to DIY your winter plant protection? Tell us about it in the comments below and your tips just might get shared in the Readers Corner of our newsletter this week!
Grateful attribution of the cover graphic goes to this Wikimedia Commons user.