Stop torturing the evergreens!


Burlap Burlap: it’s not pretty, and it doesn’t even help that much.

So what’s with the rows of narrow-leaved evergreen shrubs shrouded in burlap and bound with ropes that I see on my daily travels? Or worse, the oh-so-inviting, brown-on-one-side shrubs in pots standing proudly at the entrances of restaurants and storefronts?

I am guessing it went kind of like this: “Oh, evergreens look good in the snow. We have snow; let’s plant them.” Then: “Oh, but the evergreens do not like the cold as much as we thought they would. We must protect them.” And thus you have this unfortunate paradox: shrubs planted for winter interest that must be protected against winter in one of the ugliest ways I’ve ever seen.

Folks. You may as well plant deciduous shrubs. They will look wonderful in summer, and even bare of leaves their branches are attractive in a sculptural way. (Coated with ice they look gorgeous.) And, as we know, there are shrubs whose bare branches change color in winter. And there are cultivars that will stand up to frigid winds: creeping junipers, yews (sorry, I can’t think of the exciting ones). But I feel so sorry for all these winterburned arborvitae and cedars that I see around here.

As for the potted-evergreen crew, I’m not quite sure what they’re thinking. They might want to look into some artificial greenery, because very few shrubs could hold up to the harsh conditions of a pot in our winter climate.

As I write this, it is a brisk 7º out, and the only happy plants I have are under a deep blanket of white.

Mr. McGregor’s Daughter gave me the idea for this, but it makes her so mad, she can’t even rant about it.

Previous articleCabin fever, part I: The Teaflower
Next articleLet the understudies step forward
Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I guess that is a far north thing. I just assumed I would be reading about balled and burlapped rootballs plopped into the ground without removing the burlap or them setting by the side of the road in the winter and why aren’t they planted or whatever. I haven’t seen anything like that here.

    There are evergreens hardy to the far north. Why aren’t they planting those? Or is this just a monkey see monkey do kind of thing and things get covered that don’t need it.

    The visuals certainly sound icky.

  2. Yea, that is pretty funny. I don’t see much of the burlap around here, but people do put wooden teepees over their evergreen shrubs that are planted around foundations so they aren’t crushed when 1000 pounds of ice and snow fall on them from the roof. In fact, I have some on my little evergreen shrubs.

  3. We’re into bondage here in the snowy areas of Northern California, specifically in the Lake Tahoe/ Squaw Valley Ski area.
    It’s not that we’re sadistic, but with over 200 inches ‘+’ , of snow a year it helps to protect certain shrubberies from broken branches resulting from the weight of heavy snow accumulating on the branch structure.
    There is nothing pretty about a shrubbery or tree that has had one of its sides sheared off from snow load.
    So certain trees such as Japanese maples turn to bondage for the winter months to protect their shape.
    The burlap wrapping also helps to keep some of the branches from being eaten during the winter months as well as damaged from deer rubbing their antlers against the tree trunks.

  4. Sure, Michelle and Patty, I totally hear the snowload and deer argument. None of those conditions apply to the shrubs to which I refer, however. And it would be likely be just as well if some of these shrubs were crushed by snow or eaten.

  5. That’s so funny: “And it would be likely be just as well if some of these shrubs were crushed by snow or eaten.”

    Lots of pines and spruce get wrapped in S. Ontario – one reason is to try and reduce salt damage in winter (salt spray from a car on a highway can travel dozens of metres – and we love to use salt on our roads!). Also, landscapers here are often taught to cover a tree for the first few years after planting while it gets used to the site – much like staking trees for the first few years while roots get established.

  6. I am laughing so hard at your last statement. I’m with you. Plant beautiful shrubs with interesting bark. Ask for some at your local nursery.

    Oh, I also plant evergreens, but I live in Zone 7. We’re supposed to be cold tomorrow, but not that bloody cold.~~Dee

  7. Thank you for stepping up to the plate on this one! I’m just foaming at the mouth. Another reason people wrap their shrubs is to protect them from salt spray. I wish they’d done their research first and planted something salt-tolerant. (Junipers, anyone?)

  8. I have a half-brown little evergreen in a pot! It’s really ugly. I don’t know why I did it either. I guess I was hoping for something green to look at during the drearies.

    Maybe next year I’ll try the deciduous twig idea.

  9. I’ve been to the “far” north, and seen plenty of deer, White Pines and cedars (and other conifers), but no burlap.

    It’s all just a matter planting the right plants in certain areas, right? Some would suggest trying “native”.

  10. I echo the salt spray thing. Salt is really hard on plants in general but evergreens are especially vulnerable to it — here in Portland the city forestry division’s Web site recommends that pines et al. be set well away from roads and sidewalks.

    (Still, I don’t see how burlap can help — if the salt is carried by water droplets, won’t the fabric just soak it up?)

    I’d be willing to bet that my weirdo across-the-street neighbor, who insists on shoveling and/or snowblowing the street clean where he parks, and piling the snow on the hell strip, is responsible for killing a 50-75 year old sugar maple in front of his house (and wouldn’t you know it, the city came around and planted another one for him).

    Interestingly, the Maine DOT found that adding gypsum to soil in the spring pretty much cancels out the effects of road salt, at least in terms of plant uptake.

  11. We had over 100 inches of snow last year and most of my evergreens inc. boxwoods were buried. Some broken branches but not much. A couple of years ago a falling locust branch sheared off half of a boxwood — the half facing away from my window view. I just left it and within two years it was almost completely re-grown. My Nootkatensis seem to take snow and cold fine and the bark on my river birches rivals the evergreens for presence.

  12. This reminds me of a house down the street from me where plumerias are planted in the ground. Each winter the owner puts white socks on the growing tips to protect them in winter … s/he adds festive red bows to the socks for the holiday season.

  13. Things I have learned living in snow country:
    1. Do not plant shrubs under the roof line. (the roof line where the snow slides off.)

    2. Always leave places to pile the snow. This means do not edge your driveway with shrubs. That snow has to go somewhere and pushing it an extra 40′ to get it to a place you can pile it is hard on the back. Shoving it under the evergreen shrubs is a no-no, die off of the bottom branches. Or a perenial bed. All the snow piled on their little crowns and melting and freezing and melting and freezing is not good for them.

    Salt will not be a problem much longer. Getting to expensive, govenment entities can afford it.

  14. Worstthing to do a plant is give it the redneck fir coat(burlap)
    You should have seen the damage done to yews, and arborvitaes in NY after December’s ice storm

    The (hug me not) TROLL

  15. I have always hated the brown bushes of winter! I whole-heartedly agree with the sentiments of right plant, right place, but old habits die hard, and getting people to change what they’ve heard from garden center staff (eager to sell their burlap, no doubt) is a challenge. But what REALLY makes me crazy is the way some people insist on treating their roses for the winter. Building teepees around them, covering them in ugly white cones–it’s like fingernails down a blackboard! The good old-fashioned technique of hilling up roses has always worked for me, and looks so much better.

Comments are closed.