Protecting Your Outdoor Plants in Freezing Temperatures

Preparing for cold weather is necessary not just in our home, as those of us with somewhat drafty houses will seal up windows with plastic covering or close off rooms that aren’t used often in order to conserve energy, but it’s also necessary for the plants you have outside.

First things first, you need to make sure the plants you have are hardy enough to withstand freezing temperatures. Even some perennials are only capable of surviving until next year if the weather provides the right conditions during the winter months.

Pay attention to hardiness zone maps for your area when deciding what plants to use in your landscaping design. Most local nurseries and hardware stores like Lowe’s will only sell plants for the hardiness zone they are located in. However, mail order bulbs and dormant plants can be a whole other story, so plan wisely. Of course, Peppy Developments can assist you in discovering plants that will thrive best in your area.

Even the winter hardy plants you have need protection as the colder months approach. Most importantly, you need to mulch your garden in the fall or beginning of winter, preferably before the first freeze. Which pretty much means, since it’s now the end of December, that if you haven’t done it, you need to mulch right now.

Mulching helps to protect the root system of your plants. It needs to be at least two inches deep and about two inches away from the base of the plant, with the exception of plants like roses and cane berries, which you need to cover until spring. Ideal types of mulch include wood chips, straw, leaves, peat moss, grass clippings and saw dust.

Check the soil under mulch once a month to make sure it’s staying moist. This is especially necessary for plants under evergreens or the eaves of houses, since the soil tends to dry out in these locations during the winter. If you find the soil to be dry, it may be necessary to do a quick watering in mid- winter.

As mentioned, some perennials require a bit of extra work in order to survive the winter months in certain hardiness zones. You may find that you need to remove the tublars (the large potato-like root system base of the plant) in the fall and store them in a cool dark place until your replant in the spring.

While this can be some trouble, plants like this differ from annuals in that they last an entire growing season and continue to increase in size every year, just as if they remained in the ground. On the plus side, you can redesign your flower bed a bit each year with these.


Cover Your Less Hardy Plants

While you’ve likely heard of covering plants in the early spring to protect from a late frost, there are some plants that would also benefit from a covering throughout the winter, such as rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas and other early flowering plants.

Ideally, you need to use a cloth material such as burlap, a sheet or thin blankets, because this allows air to move through the covering (after all, plants need air too). Plastic should be avoided, because the greenhouse effect it makes can cause more harm than good.

You also need to make sure the material doesn’t touch the plant, so that it doesn’t freeze to the leaves and branches. You can do this by placing stakes in the ground around the plant and draping the material.

Believe it or not, even up to three inches of a light snow can provide some much needed protection for your less hardy plants in the winter. It both puts a protective coating over the leaves and provides a moisture seal over the ground, keeping out a freeze at the same time.

Of course, a heavier snow can have the opposite result. The weight of a heavy snow and/or ice can cause branches to break, causes sometimes considerable damage to your plants (trees and shrubs often suffer this fate in a hard winter, like the Ice Storm of 2007 the Ozarks faced). In the event of a heavy snow, shake it from the branches of trees and shrubs.

Potted Plants
Don’t forget to bring your potted plants indoors for the winter at the first sign of freezing, or even close to freezing, temperatures. Keep them indoors near a window that gets plenty of light. Once the temperatures moderate in early spring, stick your potted plants back outdoors for optimal growth results.

Keep all these things in mind as you prepare for winter months and you’ll have a beautiful garden to show off in the spring.

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