You CAN grow it, but is it worth it?

As winter sets in here in Michigan, I’m seeing gardeners deploying winter protection. Like this, which I saw on a visit to Hidden Lake Gardens with some friends recently:

pinus contorta Chief joseph covered

Well. Isn’t that attractive? Come around to the far side, and you see this:

pinus contorta Chief joseph

Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’ which is a stunningly beautiful conifer, green in the summer, this brilliant shade of gold in the winter. Sadly, those gold needles are also incredibly prone to turning a less brilliant shade of brown if exposed to too much winter sun and wind. Hence the ever-so-attractive sun-and-wind shade they’ve installed here.

Call me old-fashioned, but the point of a garden is to be pretty, and though you CAN wrap delicate shrubs in burlap or upend styrofoam cones over tender roses or even (yes, I’ve seen it) put little roofs over your hardy succulents to keep excess rain off of them, but is it really worth it? For me, if I have to put something ugly on my plants to keep them healthy, it isn’t worth it. In my garden, I’d lean towards something else I also saw on that visit:

Chamaecyparis obtusa Crippsii

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Crippsii’ No, it isn’t quite as stunning as the pine… but it will grow and not turn brown, with no fuss.

What about you? Are there plants you are willing to make your garden ugly to keep happy?


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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and a Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - Books:

13 thoughts on “You CAN grow it, but is it worth it?”

  1. I agree. But I have to say I have done this. When I lived in Coldwater, MIchigan, my property was very high and extremely windy. On the west side of the house I had a pair of weeping Redbuds flanking the porch and one winter the suffered a lot. So after that, I put up protection for them from December thru March. It was worth it. But not the best look.

    1. I think we’ve all done it… I’d be far more willing to do this for the sake of spring or summer flowers than for something like this that looks best in the winter.

  2. I live in northern New Mexico and deal with with strong wind, fierce sun, heat and cold. If a plant is delicate I’ll try to protect it with tougher plants, a low berm, or a rock wall or some combination thereof. But put up something ugly — IMO, no (except temporarily to protect fruit and vegetables from a fickle spring.) Winter long ugliness defeats the point — so my mother taught me 70 years ago.

    Well, I will wrap a young tree trunk.

  3. Yes I would put something up to protect the plants, ugly or no. Howsomever, that wall they put up? I would paint a tree or plant or some such scene on it. Then it wouldn’t be ugly. or I would put winter hardy plants at it’s base AND make it tall enough to shield the entire plant.
    Sew pockets on it, put in air plants.

  4. In northwestern Washington, I pulled out a rose garden and replanted rhododendrons, conifers, and trees that are attractive all year long for that very reason. Who wants to look at dead sticks all winter long?

  5. “Are there plants you are willing to make your garden ugly to keep happy?”..
    Yes! But only for a brief time, a couple of days or a week at the most. If by doing so the garden is then extra lovely (to me) the rest of the year then why the heck not. I draw the line at all season coverage though, at least in visible areas. I couldn’t handle seeing the example you share for months on end, although I do appreciate their choice of fabric…

  6. As a gardener my tastes are constantly changing and maybe slowly evolving. I have done the formal gardens, the English boarder and the hodgepodge in-fill. I am no longer possessed to try out of zone plants.
    These days my interests are moving towards creating ecosystems in my gardens. I can tell you that even though the plants are not as spectacular to look at, there is a calming sense about the place. When you plant natives, you attract native insects and native predators. My focus in now about providing “food and shelter” rather than colour and show. Insects good, spiders great!
    That said even tawdry native plants bloom for a while too. What I now lack in colour and flair I more than make up in complexity and stratification. I quite enjoyed watching the hawk balanced on my gutters, pulling apart a sparrow last summer. Gardening is about having vision and making it happen … whatever your vision it’s all good.

  7. I agree that is ironic that we cover up our evergreens to protect them from winter winds and deer, when the whole reason, or at least half the reason, we grow them is to see the foliage in winter. A dilemma!

  8. I agree with you- I just can’t bring myself to cover the beautiful boxwood or any other evergreen in the landscape. As an owner of a garden design/ maintenance business, we plant gardens for year round pleasure- this includes the garden in winter! The protection the burlap may give is not worth the diminishment of aesthetic pleasure, right?
    By the way- thank you for your informative comment regarding chamaecyparis obtuse “chrippsii”- I did not realize it was such a tough plant and will certainly consider this for future plantings, (if I can find it!)

  9. I agree with you but am currently guilty on two counts. I have a Meyer lemon in a pot in a homemade mini-greenhouse by the front door (protected southern exposure). It just isn’t happy inside, during the winter. I have ripe lemons, as I write. My other guilty pleasure is protecting my small fig tree with similar winter get-up. In my zone 8b in the Pacific Northwest close to Canada, I am pampering these two babies. Not sure I will have the patience for the long haul. It probably isn’t worth it, but for right now, I’m learning from the experience.

  10. I agree with your point. One of my friend had planted some beautiful flowers in her garden. To protect flowers from frost, she tried out covering them with different layers of sheets and did everything she can to protect flowers in the garden. The result was that she ended up giving her garden a terrible look… 🙂

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