Dress Your Landscape in Layers

Protect your garden from a cold snap and keep backyard wildlife cozy with careful landscape design.

Sweater weather is in sight! Wrapped in layers and with a warm mug of apple cider in hand, we’ll soon be surveying our backyards and pondering plans for our landscapes.

To help you create a more resilient, wildlife friendly backyard, we’re hosting a webinar Nov. 4 from noon to 1 p.m. Please join us to learn how to dress your landscape in layers and review some of the valuable lessons learned from winter storm Uri.

Cultivate Resilience

Work with nature to create a multi-layered gardening approach that benefits you and the larger community.

  • Plant for biodiversity. A rich variety of plants keeps your yard looking great year-round and is key to a great wildlife garden that supports local and migrating wildlife. Massed plantings are a common and beautiful design principle, but relying on one plant species could leave a big hole in your landscape that’s expensive to replace.
  • Choose native plants. Our tough regional plants are more likely to take droughts and freezes in stride. A diverse mix of native plants require much less water and provide for wildlife all year, too.
  • Layer your landscape. Use trees, shrubs, perennials and groundcovers to provide safe nesting spaces and food. The right plants keep wildlife cozy in winter. Remember, evergreens are the sweaters of the landscape.
  • Mulch for healthy soils. I’m a lazy gardener, so I mow leaves into the lawn and rake a reasonable layer of leaves into my landscape beds to keep over the winter. Then I add a layer of mulch over them in spring which helps hold moisture in the soil and freshens the look.
  • Try “green mulch.” Plant densely instead of using wood chips. Mimic natural communities for an adapted yet artful look.
  • Know your microclimates. Check plant tags at the garden center to see if it grows in sun or shade, but also consider which direction it’s facing, nearby windbreaks, heat-holding stones and slope. Protected locations helped many plants survive last February.

Lessons Learned from the Freeze

Here we can grow a wide variety of plants from cacti and succulents to semi-tropical bloomers and palms. Many plants bounced back promptly after the prolonged cold snap while others recovered more slowly. Some you may want to enjoy in your yard, but be prepared to replace them after a deep freeze.


  • Native plants. All of my native plants made it through the bitter weather, including those I had planted in early November.
  • Rosemary. Upright rosemary seemed to fare better than prostrate rosemary. I lost mine but heard others’ plants did fine.
  • Esperanza. The outstanding bright yellow bells are back as usual. Plant away!

Pause before planting:

  • Select citrus such as Meyer lemon, Mexican lime and Satsuma (most cold tolerant) are sensitive. Consider using containers that can be easily moved indoors or keep in mind planting them outdoors may mean a loss.
  • Palms including nearly all royal, date, queen and Mexican fan palms did not survive the freeze. Many other species of palms, including windmill, European and California fan palms, took the spring and summer to recover. Sabal species scoffed at the freeze.
  • Some sago palms slowly unfurled new leaves and others came back from the base. The fact their seeds are toxic may sway your opinion on whether to plant these cycads.

Find out more post-freeze plant recommendations, winter landscaping lessons and tips for resiliency in Thursday’s webinar.

Picture of Sasha Kodet
Sasha Kodet
Sasha Kodet is a conservation planner whose large garden attracts a myriad of wildlife and curious neighbors with minimal water. At SAWS, Kodet develops outdoor programs to help people create their own beautiful, water-saving landscapes. She draws on her two decades of experience as a naturalist, botanical garden educator and event planner. Kodet enjoys (really) long walks in the woods and has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail.
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