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Protecting Landscape Plants from Freezing Temperatures

November can present some challenges for home landscape enthusiasts.  As our landscape plants begin to go dormant they begin to face colder temperatures. Temperatures below freezing have the ability to damage ornamental plants thus reducing their vigor and overall lifespan. So today I want to talk about a few preventative measures to protect your prized landscape plants as much as possible during the winter months.

The first tip isn’t really something you can do now however it is something to consider for the future when purchasing plants for your landscape. The best way to prevent cold damage is to select a plants that are acclimated to grow here in our area. Georgia has different plant hardiness zones with the majority of Stephens county being in zone 8a and just a small portion of the northern part of the county in 7b. When selecting cold-tolerant plants, be sure to consider whether they can survive the summer heat in your area as well.

Maintaining proper plant nutrition increases a plant’s tolerance to cold injury. Plants that have been given the appropriate nutrition are healthier and more capable of acclimating to cold temperatures. This must be done during the spring and summer months. Fertilizing plants in the fall after September can cause a flush of new growth that is more susceptible to cold temperatures. Fertilization is important for plant health, however it is important you do not fertilize now as it could cause more damage than good.

Protecting plants in containers can be a difficult challenge. The best case scenario is to place them inside a protective structure (house, garage, greenhouse or shed) or by placing a protective covering over them. Sheets, blankets or cardboard boxes help protect them from low temperature injury. Remove the cover and provide ventilation during the day to allow the release of the heat that is trapped by solar radiation. Container plants are especially susceptible to cold temperatures; their roots are more exposed because they are above ground. Push together container plants that are left outside and mulch or cover them to decrease heat loss from the sides of the containers. Wrap the bases of the containers in plastic, burlap or blankets to reduce heat loss.

Plants growing close to the ground are usually protected by heat radiating from the soil. Tall, more open plants do not receive as much radiating heat and are not as protected from the cold. Mulching helps reduce heat loss of the soil, thus minimizing temperature fluctuations. Protecting the roots of tender perennials may also be beneficial for them to survive the cold and come back in the spring.

Plants continue to have water requirements during the winter months. Therefore, following sound irrigation practices is essential for a healthy and cold hardy plant. Check the water needs of plants prior to a predicted cold snap and water if necessary. Moist soil absorbs more heat, helping to maintain an elevated temperature around the plants. Mulching the base of plants helps to retain moisture.

Cold damaged plants typically display signs over time through weakening and succumbing to disease problems. Taking a few preventative measures to protect your plants during the winter will improve their ability to overwinter and increase their lifespan.