How to Build a Winter Shrub Shelter

Preventive Shrub Care: Winter Protection With a Shelter

Commercial shrub shelter, consisting 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.

First, 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.

Gathering the Poles for the 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. 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 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 three to four inches in diameter) with a sturdy branch eight 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 eight 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 eight 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 eight 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.

Fashioning the Crosspieces of the Snow and Ice Shelter

Poles needed to place around bush
David Beaulieu

Fashion the seven crosspieces for your snow and ice shelter. These are simple, 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 six 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 snow and ice shelter.

If you are worried about aesthetic considerations, you can even use pine for your poles and peel the bark off.

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

Preparations for Excavating

Poles being used as excavating guideline
David Beaulieu

Lay out four of your six-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 four forked poles. You'll dig on the inner side of each of the four corners of your rectangular pole guide.

Excavation for the Shrub Shelter

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

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

Optional: Whittling the Vertical Poles to a Sharp Point

Pole whittled to a point
David Beaulieu

If excavating in rocky soil, you might find it difficult to go as deep as two 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 dangerous if not used wisely.

Note that 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. 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.

Installing the Vertical Support Pieces

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.

Perform the same operation on the other side, to complete the support-structure.

Filling Your Forks With Crosspieces

Crosspiece pole being laid for shelter
David Beaulieu

Lay a six-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 ​cross pieces that parallel each other.

Completing the Grid

Perpendicular crosspiece poles
David Beaulieu

Those first two cross pieces 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.

A Free Shelter--Completed

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, 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 be temporary, as they will eventually rot.