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Mid-Atlantic Gardening: Winter Damage Survival Guide

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Discover tips for avoiding winter damage on plants. Learn about own-root roses, Endless Summer hydrangeas, and other hardy plants that stand up to Mid-Atlantic winters.

First snowfall 10-23-13

By Julie Martens Forney

The winter of 2013–14 smashed records everywhere. Here in the Appalachian Mountains, it started snowing October 23, and our last snowfall came April 1 the following year -- a good April Fool’s prank. Between record snowfalls and frigid temperatures, the Mid-Atlantic experienced a winter to remember.

By now Mid-Atlantic gardens are growing, and we’ve all muddled through the is-it-alive-or-dead questioning. I lost 10 different perennials and have learned some lessons to avoid winter damage.

Own-root rose, Distant Drums Shrub rose

Own-Root Roses

In much of the Mid-Atlantic, roses were a frequent casualty of the severe cold. Both newly planted roses and 20-year-old roses died. I thought my shrub roses were history until I spotted new growth -- coming from the roots.

I have always favored own-root roses for their winter hardiness. After last winter I’m sold more than ever. Usually, own-root roses are smaller than grafted roses when you buy them, but they eventually catch up and earn their keep after winters like the last one.

Endless Summer hydrangea

Endless Summer Hydrangea

I’ve always adored Endless Summer hydrangea for its reliable flowers and easy pruning schedule. This year I’m a bigger fan for its winter-hardy nature.

Other hydrangeas suffered winter bud loss, but Endless Summer hydrangeas are pushing new growth from the roots and forming flower buds.

‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass (foreground), ‘Morning Light’ miscanthus (background)

Ornamental Grasses: A Mixed Bag

My front yard features two ornamental grasses: ‘Morning Light’ miscanthus and ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass, which were glorious last year.

After winter the feather reed grass looks great, but the miscanthus is gone. Both had the same depth of snow cover. As much as I love the fountain shape of miscanthus, I’m not replanting it.

Tough Choices

For me the ultimate outcome of a severe winter is choosing the right replacement plants: own-root roses; winter-hardy shrubs, like Endless Summer hydrangea; and perennials hardy to one zone colder, which is Zone 4 at this elevation of the Mid-Atlantic.