Gardening in Langley: Nibblers busy on topiary bush

Send questions to amarrison@shaw.ca. It helps if you include the name of your city or region.

  • Dec. 3, 2015 4:00 a.m.

Dear Anne,

We recently planted a new green topiary bush which is doing well in the middle of our garden bed. But the label suggests it be taken indoors for winter. We are not planning on digging it up to do that. Will wrapping it in several layers of burlap and tying securely be enough protection?

Verna Mar, Vancouver

How much cold your topiary can stand depends on what variety it is and how cold winter gets.

Most tender bushes sold here for garden use are zone 8. If you live near the coast, a zone 8 plant might squeak through mild, brief frosts.

But since over-wintering inside was recommended, your bush needs maximum protection and even then its survival can’t be certain. Being a new planting puts it in even greater jeopardy.

Your burlap suggestion might work for brief, mild overnight ground frosts – but any significant freeze-ups are will do severe damage to your topiary.

The roots need mulching with straw, bark mulch or compost at least two feet (60 centimetres) wide and at least a foot (30cm) deep.

In more severe freezes, the upper part of your topiary could be covered with a thick blanket for several days. You should remove this in warmer spells and in rain because your bush needs light to stay healthy.

Where rain alternates rapidly with freezing, the blanket could be covered with plastic. This shouldn’t be used next to the bush because plastic holds on to moisture which could rot the smaller branches and leaves.

Some people put Christmas lights around their tree before covering it. These should have incandescent bulbs (not LED). But the bulbs themselves shouldn’t touch any part of the tree. This avoids a burning injury to the leaves or bark.

You could try putting a fence of stakes around the outside and fasten the lights on the inside of the stakes. Then cover all this with the temporary blanket.

Dear Anne,

Something is chewing on my Rose of Sharon bush overnight. It is leaving big areas of the branch exposed. I have lots of small birds, raccoons, rats and wild rabbits in my yard  from time to time.

Do you have any idea what may be doing this damage and what I can do to try to prevent it? Will this cause much harm or even kill my bush?

Heather Scott, South Surrey

If the chewing is on a branch, the culprits are likely deer or squirrels. Other bark chewers such as rabbits or voles attack at soil level. Rats can chew bark but usually don’t.

A tree or tree branch will usually die if the bark is removed all the way around. This is because that sap won’t be able to travel past the gap. The upper portion then starves and dries out. But as long as some bark remains, the bush will recover and eventually the bare patch heals over.

It’s possible to get plastic or metal tree guards to protect tree trunks. Branches can be wrapped with plastic mesh, small-mesh wire, burlap or hardware cloth.

Some people paint branches with white latex paint as a deterrent. Repellents can be mixed into the paint. Deterrent sprays are also available, but many need to be re-applied after rain.

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