WINTER FROST & SNOW
by Carole Schwalm
The weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
While it is not officially winter yet, here in the Rocky and Southern Rocky Mountain Regions, we haven’t been immune to cold temperatures and heavy snows. It’s time to think: PLANT PROTECTION.
BRRR, CHILL, BRRRRRRRR
You still have time to get your plants ready if you are just in the beginning days of the cold weather season. First, you need to slow growth, which means, now is not the time to fertilize. Second, begin to water less. The keyword is “less,” rather than not at all. A soil that is a little moist ensures that leaves stay strong and less susceptible to frost damage.
Insulation: suspend burlap, corrugated cardboard, newspapers, plastic or old bed sheets over the plant (like ornamentals), shrub or tree trunk. Here, you need to be careful that the covering does not touch the leaves. Any in direct contact will freeze. If trees have split bark, yes it can re-grow. If left alone, it often closes naturally.
If frost damage occurs let the plants slowly thaw. Do the latter in a shaded area. The sun only increases the potential for damage.
The plants near the house, under the eaves, are somewhat protected because the overhang helps keep heat in the soil. The soil around the plant actually draws in warmth, which is something to think about when it comes to mulch. Too much of a good thing, becomes a bad thing in the winter.
Moving perennial containers, if possible, near the house helps protect them from cold, but also from wind and winter sun damage to plant tissues.
Snow is insulating. In a test using six inches of snow, temperatures did not dip below 27 degrees in a minus 22 degree temperature. The deeper the snow, the warmer the soil. The warmer the soil (above 35 degrees) the healthier and growth-enhancing it is for plants. This perspective is one reason why you don’t want to zip outside and clear away the snow from your daffodil and tulip bulbs. You may think nothing is happening, but they are growing. They will die in the cold ground temperature. (The same holds true for your perennial beds).
Heavy masses of snow break tree branches if allowed to accumulate. Shake the snow off as best you can if you can. Depending on the size of the shrub or tree, you can spiral twine around the tree. This holds branches close to the trunk so snow can’t build up. For shrubs, build a teepee. Shelter it using bamboo stakes and burlap.
If you don’t get a lot of snow, mulch the perennials with straw or wood shavings. Clear them away in the spring to avoid damage because they are soggy.
Mulch helps avoid the freezing/thawing/freezing/thawing temperature fluctuations that cause root damage. The main challenge is that you lose the solar benefit of rays that provides warmth. You can pull the mulch away, and then let the sun do its work, and then rake the mulch back.
Winter is not pruning time. It is a very vulnerable season. Wait until frost days have passed and your plant starts growing again. Be a little patient, because even if the top part looks as if it has passed on, the roots may be healthy. Twigs that are shriveled or soft however, are subject to disease and should be snipped off, even in the winter.
Last but not least: It is time to think about ordering seed catalogs!
Share your winter gardening experience or if you'd like more information.