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Protecting Plants From Extreme Cold

November 3rd, 2012

Dealing with extremely cold weather conditions can bring additional burdens to even the savviest gardeners. While the 2012 fall season has been unusually warm in many parts of the country, El Nino leaves a big question mark as to if the trend will continue. Yet for many of us, very cold weather will strike just as it does every year. If you’re concerned that your beautiful garden may turn limp, blackened, or translucent due to cold weather conditions, this guide can help.

Preventing Plant Damage Before The Extreme Cold:

*Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers, as these just enable plants to create sappy leaf growth that tends to be more susceptible to damage. This process gets particularly bothersome early or late in the year.

*Choose plants that are relatively hardy, and can withstand harsher weather. Some of the best cold tolerant plants are: broccoli, cabbage, carrots, chives, lettuce, peas, radish, Swiss chard, and spinach.

*Place tender plants against a wall, and ensure the plant is not east-facing. Moreover, do not place plants in cold pockets, as frost tends to gather in the lowest surface areas.

*Avoid pruning plants during the fall and winter months. When plants are pruned during this time, new growth often takes the brunt of the damage. This practice will help protect the central crown of the plant, and will expose mostly old growth to damage.

Protecting Plants In Extreme Cold: In extreme weather, it’s best practice to use a frost cloth or old blankets combined with Christmas lights. Many have found that the older style, incandescent Christmas lights provide the most heat.  Even a few degrees can make a big difference for your plants. When choosing a blanket, never use plastic – as this material actually increases the probability of frost damage.

For further protection, a Frost Proof insulating spray (used on non-edible plants) can also minimize damage quite effectively. The thin lay of waxy substance reduces the rate of evaporation from your plant’s leaves, which ultimately minimizes frost damage.

Protecting Plants In Snow Conditions:  While frost can do significant damage to plants, snow is different because it acts as an insulator which protects plants from extreme cold and frost. But before you start dreaming of a white Christmas, it’s important to know that snow does bring damage when the weight of a heavy layer causes leaves and branches to break. After snowy weather, remember to gently shake excess snow off the leaves and branches of your plants.

How To Identify Damaged Plants From Extreme Cold: Common symptoms of damaged plants are dead or dormant leaves, fruits and flowers, and dieback of shoots, leaves and stems.  As bad as it may look, no need to panic and immediately prune the damaged areas.  Rather, wait until spring to prune.   Warmth will continue to become trapped inside the damaged canopies and it’s best to leave them alone.  Also, pruning may stimulate new growth, which will ultimately become damaged again in the winter months.  In the spring, you should find that new growth will appear and it will become safe to prune and take out dead wood.

Looking for more ways to protect your plants this winter? Don’t forget to check our guide to: Protecting Plants From Freezing Temperatures.

*Friends, what practices do you use to protect your plants from the extreme cold? 

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