Metro-East Living

Wrap shrubs in burlap to protect from cold

Burlap wraps will protect shrubs from winter’s bite.
Burlap wraps will protect shrubs from winter’s bite.

Q: We have planted a number of small shrubs and want to protect them from the harsh winter weather. What do you suggest?

H. G. of Columbia

A: I suggest using burlap wraps placed with four sturdy stakes at the corners and about 3 feet tall or higher for larger shrubs. Then wrap the burlap several times around the outside of these stakes, holding it in place with wire or sowing the last outside sheet to the one underneath. This will limit the amount of wind that could drop the temperatures even lower than the air temperatures. This type of wrap can also trap snow and further protect the shrubs from harsh winter weather.

On downwind side, you can also place three to four 3-inch holes so that smaller birds can also be protected from the winds.

Once you have covered the plants, leave them alone until spring. Too many gardeners get curious to see how their plants are faring and frozen branches break very easily.

Q: We are thinking of planting some trees and shrubs that will produce berries that wildlife could eat during the cold winters. Could you provide a list?

D.L. of Collinsville

A. Try Amelanchier (Serviceberry), which produces black fruits. Ilex (holly) species produce many red berries, but the majority requires both a male and a female plant to be placed close enough for fertilization. Cornus (dogwoods) produce both buds and berries for birds. Quercus (oaks) produce acorns and for wildlife.

If you prefer to attract birds, use species that produce ¾ of an inch acorns. For mammals — squirrels, chipmunks and the like — try an overcup or burr oak (which produces a very large acorn. Malus (crabapples) produce very small apples. For shrubs, try Viburnum (cranberries and other berries). This is a general list of the major families that can keep birds and wildlife around during the winter.

Q: How do I harvest gourds? I would like to turn them into birdhouses.

K. F. of Belleville

A: You are a little late with this question for this year. Harvest gourds when the vine attached to the gourd turns brown and especially before a frost (usually early October). The rind usually turns brown or deep yellow. You then need to clean them with warm soapy water and place them on a layer of newspaper to dry for a week.

During this time, the outer skin hardens and the surface colors set in. It takes about three to four weeks to finish drying. Then apply a wax, shellac or varnish to prolong the life of the gourd for a birdhouse.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Patrick Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to

Do it now

  • CLEAN UP: Do the final cleanup of the lawn, garden and flower bed.
  • JOURNAL: Also review your journal for the year. Note everything about the year, especially all the spring rain which did about as much damage to trees as the drought of 2012. Writing this down on paper in a journal can help with future planting of certain varieties for certain weather conditions.