Winterizing Flowering Bushes: Winter Protection With a Shrub Shelter

  • 01 of 10

    Preventive Shrub Care: Winter Protection With a Shelter

    Commercial shrub shelter, consisting of an A-frame roofed with plywood.
    Commercial shrub shelters typically take the form of an A-frame roofed with plywood. David Beaulieu

    Most deciduous flowering bushes, unlike evergreens, provide no visual interest in winter, but their promise of spring blooming gets us through many a dreary winter day. There's some preventive shrub care to provide for your flowering bushes to return the favor -- some simple winter protection.

    Shrubs can be damaged by heavy snows or ice storms that snap their branches. You can build a simple pole-shelter within which to house your flowering bushes. Lay a "roofing" of evergreen boughs...MORE on such a structure afterwards to winterize the shrub. After Christmas, you can even cut the boughs off your Christmas tree and use them for the roofing, thus killing two birds with one stone: winterizing a shrub and recycling your Christmas tree.

    This 10-page tutorial, with pictures, shows what the poles for the structure will look like and how to assemble them.

    The idea is to build a grid supported by four posts. After construction, a simple covering will be placed over the grid, keeping snow and ice off the flowering shrub.

    Measure the dimensions of the flowering shrub that you wish to protect. The measurements will determine the size of the poles needed. The example used here is for a 5 foot X 5 foot shrub (adjust accordingly for the measurements of your own shrub), for which we'll need the following for poles:

    • Four vertical poles at about 8 feet in length
    • Seven horizontal poles at about 6 feet in length

    Supplies needed to build this shelter for flowering shrubs:

    1. Shovel
    2. Tape measure
    3. Protective eyewear, steel-toed shoes
    4. Your choice of cutting instrument:
      • Bow saw
      • Hatchet
      • Chainsaw

    The author prefers to cut and limb the trees with a hatchet and buck them with a bow saw. Hand tools are quieter and allow you to enjoy the project more. On Page 2 we gather the poles....

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  • 02 of 10

    Gathering the Poles for the Shelter

    Pole being measured for shrub shelter.
    Pole being measured for shrub shelter. David Beaulieu

    Where do you get the wooden poles for this pole-shelter? Even many suburbanites have "problem areas" near their property borders, where young trees are growing up wild, as brush. The source for your poles could well be just such an area. As a bonus, you'll be cleaning up the area at the same time, improving the looks of your yard.

    Lacking such an area yourself, consider whether neighbors, friends, or relatives may have such an area on their land. Often, they'll be glad to have you...MORE offer to help "clean it up" by removing some brush. What's "brush" to them is "building material" to you, for this project. It doesn't matter what kinds of trees are available: all you need is some wood that will hold up through the winter.

    Having located a wood source, look for a straight sapling (a tree about 3-4 inches in diameter) with a sturdy branch 8 feet or more above the ground. Cut the tree down.

    With the felled tree in a horizontal position, you can now fashion your pole, by making three cuts:

    1. Measure 8 feet from where the branch that you chose meets the trunk, down towards the base of the tree. Cut off the excess wood (whatever exceeds the 8 feet that you need).
    2. Similarly, go back to the branch that will be forming the "fork," measure from where it meets the trunk out 8 inches, and trim the branch there.
    3. Roughly across from cut #2, cut off the rest of the trunk.

    Repeat this operation on three more trees, since we need a total of four vertical poles. On Page 3 we gather the crosspieces....

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  • 03 of 10

    Fashioning the Crosspieces of the Snow and Ice Shelter

    Poles needed to place around bush
    Poles needed for shelter: five crosspieces (left) and four vertical posts. David Beaulieu

    Now fashion the seven crosspieces for your snow and ice shelter. These are simply relatively straight lengths of wood (precision is not required). Limb off any branches, using your ax or saw. In this example, we need the poles to be 6 feet long. Rather than cutting separate tree saplings to fashion these, you may well be able to derive them from the "scrap" left over from the previous step.

    Remember, the crosspieces will be used to form a grid and rest atop the four vertical poles of the...MORE snow and ice shelter.

    If you are worried about aesthetic considerations, you can even use pine for your poles and peel the bark off. Peeled pine poles make quite an attractive building material. Their light color can be temporarily preserved with a coat of linseed oil. But that's just an option for those who happen to be particularly stylish; the present article focuses on building a basic, functional structure.

    When using tools such as axes and saws, always keep home safety tips in mind.

    On Page 4 we prepare for the excavation phase of this project....

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  • 04 of 10

    Preparations for Excavating for the Shrub Shelter

    Poles being used as excavating guideline
    Poles being used as excavating guidelines for the shrub shelter. David Beaulieu

    Now that the pole cutting is done, it's time to bring the poles back to where your shrub stands in your garden or lawn. You need to excavate the holes needed for installing the four forked poles -- the poles that will serve as vertical supports for the crosspieces.

    Lay out four of your 6-foot crosspieces to form a temporary rectangle around your bush. This will serve as a guide for digging the four holes into which you'll be placing the 4 forked poles. You'll dig on the inner side of...MORE each of the four corners of your rectangular pole guide.

    On Page 5 we proceed with the digging....

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  • 05 of 10

    Excavation for the Shrub Shelter

    Holes dug for the shrub shelter's poles.
    Holes dug for the shrub shelter's poles. David Beaulieu

    Excavate the four holes, to a depth of about 2 feet. Going down this deep will give your structure good support.

    What if you encounter resistance in the ground as you dig, preventing you from reaching a depth of 2 feet? On Page 6 that issue will be addressed, providing a handy tip....

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  • 06 of 10

    Optional: Whittling the Vertical Poles to a Sharp Point

    Pole whittled to a point
    Pole whittled to a point for shrub shelter. David Beaulieu

    If excavating in rocky soil, you might find it difficult to go as deep as 2 feet. You can make your work a bit easier by whittling the bottoms of your four forked poles to a sharp point. A pointed pole can easily be driven a few extra inches into the ground, since it offers less resistance.

    For this optional whittling operation, there is no good substitute for a hatchet. However, it may be advisable to skip this optional step if you have no experience in wielding a hatchet. Hatchets can be...MORE dangerous if not used wisely. By the way, note that, although it's somewhat counter-intuitive, a sharpened hatchet is less dangerous than one with a blunt blade. The latter is more likely to careen wildly off the object being cut and strike your body. But by giving a hatchet-blade a sharp edge, you increase its chances of biting into the wood properly, which, in turn, increases your control over it.

    With the excavation done, on Page 7 we turn to installing the vertical poles....

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  • 07 of 10

    Installing the Vertical Support Pieces

    Pole Being Used as Sighting Tool
    Pole being used as sighting tool. David Beaulieu

    Place the four forked poles in their holes. Use the V-notch as you would the sight on a rifle to line up the fork of one pole with that of another. When those two are lined up, fill in their two holes with dirt, tamping the dirt down firmly every couple of shovel-fulls. You've now got the supports for one side finished. Next, perform the same operation on the other side, to complete the support-structure.

    With the vertical poles in place, they can now perform their intended function: namely,...MORE to support the crosspieces, as illustrated on Page 8....

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  • 08 of 10

    Filling Your Forks With Crosspieces

    Crosspiece pole being laid for shelter
    Crosspiece pole being laid for shrub shelter. David Beaulieu

    Lay a 6-foot crosspiece into two of the forks (so as to span the distance between two of the vertical poles), first on one side, then on the other. The result will be four vertical poles supporting two crosspieces that parallel each other.

    On Page 9 you'll see how to lay the remaining five crosspieces....

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  • 09 of 10

    Completing the Grid

    Perpendicular crosspiece poles
    Crosspieces being laid perpendicularly to form a grid. David Beaulieu

    Those first two crosspieces that you have laid will now serve as horizontal supports for the remaining five. Lay the remaining five crosspieces on top, equidistant from each other and perpendicular to the first two crosspieces laid. The grid is complete. For a picture of the completed shrub shelter, plus an idea for a related project, please see Page 10....

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  • 10 of 10

    A Free Shelter -- Completed

    Completed shrub shelter
    View from above the completed shrub shelter. David Beaulieu

    The shrub shelter is complete. All you need to do now is lay "roofing" over the crosspieces, such as pine or other evergreen boughs. This roofing will bear the brunt of winter's ice and snow, instead of the branches of your shrub. Assuming you already possess the simple tools required for the project, you'll have a free shelter.

    These same techniques, modified slightly, are useful for other applications around the yard. For instance, instead of building garden arbors with lumber,...MORE you can construct them in a rustic style with poles fashioned from saplings. Unless you're using cedar or a similar wood, such structures would, of course, be temporary (they will eventually rot). But they're sufficient to support annual vines, as when you wish to grow your own Halloween jack-o-lanterns or gourd birdhouses.

    Those of you desirous of a shrub shelter but who lack a natural wood source do have the alternative pictured on Page 1: an A-frame made with commercial lumber. But A-frame shrub shelters are suitable only for small-to-medium-sized shrubs.