As we all bundle up and cope with the coldest temperatures of the year, it’s important to be mindful of how the winter weather affects our plants as well. Plants in their first year after being planted are the most at risk as they are still becoming established. Preparing plants and perennials for winter is essential to keep them healthy and alive for the spring to come!
Most plants naturally go through several steps to protect themselves from freezing temps. These steps include reducing moisture to their outer branches causing growth to halt and leaves to fall. They require less water and other nutrients overall since growth is dormant. While the foliage of some plants such as the Thuja Green Giant are fine by being covered in snow, the very first frost may see other plants such as the Agapanthus Blue completely abandoning their foliage above the ground. Although each species of plant will have a different visible picture of what healthy looks like through the winter, they are all susceptible to damage or death if not properly prepared for the temperatures to drop. There are several winter blooming trees to provide fall color as well.
Here are a few guidelines for your garden’s winter survival.
Frozen roots=Dead plants
Roots are the part of your plant least able to cope with the cold. Many of our customers love plants such as the Patio Peach Tree and Arbequina Olive Tree because they can be easily kept in pots or planters to accent the patio or pool deck. It’s important to remember though that these pots leave the plants’ roots far more susceptible to the cold and that it takes less dramatic temperatures to freeze anything above the ground. Smaller planters can simply be placed in a sheltered area or indoors (avoid too much warmth) and larger planters should be wrapped in an insulating material. The ground freezes occasionally will be fine.
Mulch not only looks good, it serves an important purpose. First, it helps retain moisture. This means when you water, more of it will stay where it needs to be to nourish your plant. Secondly, it insulates your plant’s roots from deadly frost. Use mulch, leaves. straw, or other organic matter. Pine needles will work well too! Spread 2-3 inches of mulch for best results.
Cover them up for the coldest
Especially in cases of early cold snaps or extremely cold temperatures, covering your plants can help insulate them from the shock. You can make a teepee with stakes as tall as your tree or use a tomato trellis for medium size plants. Use sheets, blankets or multiple layers of burlap to drape over or wrap around the frame. Protect low-lying plants from cracking during the winter with fabric, leaf mulch or hay. If harsh freezes are going to linger, you can leave the fabric in place. Just remember to unwrap everything the next morning if temperatures are expected to rise significantly. Stake the fabric in place to guard against wind and be sure to quickly de-ice the fabric if necessary so that the weight doesn’t break your support, potentially damaging your plant. If you live in a place like north Florida where you experience freezing and thawing many times over the winter season.
Water through the winter season
It’s easy to remember that our plants need water when it’s hot outside, and indeed they need much more through the early spring and summer. However, establishing roots will still need occasional watering throughout the winter. Timing your watering is important though, since you want to avoid having extra moisture around the roots before the temp drops. The best practice is to water in the late morning or early afternoon so that the plants have absorbed what they needed and excess water has drained off before nightfall. If extra harsh freezes are on the way and going to last a few days or even a couple weeks, simply avoid watering completely until the temperature picks up. Always try to water the ground, not the leaves.
Know your plant’s pruning schedule
Seasonal pruning is necessary for many plants to achieve the rejuvenated and dense spring growth we all want to see. The timing of the pruning will vary from plant to plant however and knowing what is best for your plant may be imperative. Pruning causes plants to push moisture toward the pruned ends to facilitate new growth. In most cases, you want to avoid having that extra moisture in the branches during the winter. If it freezes it can cause splitting within your plant, which can lead to heavy damage or death.
Taking these few precautions can mean all the difference in keeping your plants healthy through the worst of winter. Try your best to know when heavier drops in the temperatures are coming, giving you time to prepare. Following these few tips will help ensure that your garden is thriving come spring.
Check out our other blog post on Winterizing Trees.