You keep yourself protected from the winter chill, but are you protecting your garden from the cold? Even before the chill of autumn blows in, it’s important to consider the health of your garden plants as we approach the winter months. Take these steps to winterize your garden:
1. Know your plant.
As we all know, it’s important to know what you’re planting, but especially if you are worried about winter damage. Make sure that the plants you are using can withstand cooler temperatures during the dormant season. Plants which can handle cold winters are known as “hardy plants.” Plants which cannot tolerate the freezing temperatures in your area are called “tender plants.”
Be sure that each plant you put in the garden is appropriate for your cold hardiness zone. Check out the USDA Cold Hardiness Zone Map on the United States Department of Agriculture’s website.
2. Obey the “Do-Nots” of winter care.
Do not water late. Watering late in the season and too close to fall can cause plants to keep growing because of the presence of nutrients in the soil solution.
Do not fertilize late. The last day you should fertilize plants is six weeks before the average first frost date for your region.
Do not hoe or weed late. This mainly applies to areas which tend to have really cold, early winters. Hoeing and weeding after the six week period before your first frost date can lead to the release of nutrients in the soil and thus the encouragement of plant growth. This growth can easily be damaged by early frosts.
Do not plant in frost pockets. Low spots in your landscape can collect cold air during early spring and cause damage to tender plants.
3. Consider deacclimation.
Deacclimation occurs when plants experience warm enough conditions to initiate bud break. Bud break is normal for plants, however, early deacclimation can cause serious winter damage. Prevent early deacclimation by not planting on the Southwestern side of your landscape. The Northern and Eastern areas of your garden can provide the best protection during the winter and decrease early deacclimation. Also, planting in shade can help keep this issue at bay as well.
Early deacclimation can be combated once more by the presence of bodies of water. Lakes and ponds can change the temperature of the surrounding air in the fall and spring to help delay deacclimation, saving your plants. In the fall, cold air is warmed up by the lake as it blows across the much warmer water. This prevents trees with tender leaves still attached to the plant to not experience a cold surprise. In the spring, on the other hand, warm air blowing across a cold lake will chill the air, preventing warm air to encourage dormant tree buds to deacclimate.
4. Wrap plants in a winter blanket.
Covering your plants with cloth or tarps during the winter can help to prevent damage caused by cold temperatures. Keep in mind, however, this will only work if the covering touches the ground surrounding the plant, trapping heat underneath.
5. Buy plants from the nursery yard.
Purchasing plants which have been grown in the nursery yard, instead of inside a greenhouse, can help to prevent winter damage. Because of the warmer temperatures inside a greenhouse, greenhouse-grown plants may have already deacclimated and broken bud. These plants will definitely be affected by winter temperatures.
6. Some plants need the cold.
One important point to keep in mind is that some plants, particularly many fruit trees, actually have a cold requirement in order to maximize growth throughout the year. In other words, some plants may require a certain number of hours below 45 degrees Fahrenheit during the dormant season in order for buds to break. In this case, not having enough winter weather can cause a decrease in growth or lack of fruit production.