Brrr, it’s cold outside! What about my plants?

press release from georgia master gardeners

By John Price on

In the Garden by the Walton Garden Master Gardeners published in The Walton Tribune

Just when you are enjoying these milder temperatures after the brutal heat of summer, the weatherman is reporting about frost. What does that mean, and what can we do to prevent damage to our plants?

First of all, don’t panic! During the summer months, plants are actively growing and would be severely injured by even the slightest frost. However, during the late summer and early fall, plants are already preparing themselves for winter through a process called cold acclimation.This process is initiated by the cooler temperatures and shorter day lengths that naturally occur at this time of the year. In a way, they are getting ready for the cold!

First things first – bring all your potted plants indoors and also all pots that can’t take a freeze, such as terra cotta, ceramic, and porcelain pots.

Covering your plants with sheets, blankets, or cardboard boxes helps protect them from low temperature injury. Drape the coverings loosely and secure stakes, rocks, or bricks. Heavier covers may require some type of support, such as wire, to prevent them from becoming crushed under the weight. Covering plants in the evening will help retain heat and protect them from freezing. Don’t forget to remove the coverings once the sun comes out! Plastic sheeting is not recommended; the plant can heat up rapidly as temperatures rise and be damaged.

Another way to protect plants is by watering them a day or two before the frost is expected. Wet soil will hold more heat than soil that is dry. Be sure not to saturate the plant. Light watering in the evening hours, before temperatures drop, will help raise humidity levels and reduce frost damage.

Some people prefer to mulch their garden plants. Popular mulching materials include straw, pine needles, bark, and loosely piled leaves. Mulch helps to lock in moisture and holds in heat during cold weather. When using mulch, try to keep the depth at about 2 to 3 inches. If you have very tender plants, these may require overwintering in a cold frame or indoors. Cold frames can be purchased at most garden centers or built easily at home. Wood, cinder blocks, or bricks can be used for the sides, and old storm windows can be implemented as the top. For those needing a quick, temporary frame, simply stack baled hay or straw around your plants and use an old window for the top.

Designing a garden with raised beds will also help guard plants against frost during cold temperatures. Cold air tends to collect in sunken areas rather than higher mounds. Raised beds also make covering plants much easier.

The best way to prevent cold damage is to select plants that can tolerate cold temperatures. Assess
your property to determine the coldest and the warmest spots. Usually, the coldest spots are found on the north and northwest part of the property, and in low areas where cold air settles. The warmest spots are usually on the southern part of the property. Place cold-sensitive plants near the part of the house that receives southern exposure or near larger plants or other structures.

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.

While our temperatures here in Walton County are typically mild, we are all still a little gun shy from the two freezes that happened last winter and damaged gardenias, tea olives, and azaleas, to name a few. The best insurance against frost damage is to ensure our plants are healthy going into the winter. Clean up debris around your plants to prevent disease. If you suspect any damage, wait before you do any pruning until Spring.

See you in the Garden!

The Georgia Master Gardener Extension Volunteer Program is offered through the Walton County UGA Extension office.

Participants are trained and certified in home horticulture, gardening, and related areas and then volunteer their expertise and services, under the direction of our extension agent, Joel Burnsed. Our goal is to help others through educating the public about the benefits of a healthy environment and through horticultural projects that benefit the community.

Currently, we help to maintain two gardens in Walton County: Pollinator Sanctuary Garden at Friendship Park in Social Circle; and Vegetable and Flower Garden at Walton County Senior Center. Next year, we hope to incorporate an Educational Garden at our new extension office for demonstrations and workshops.

Walton County UGA Extension is located at 1258 Criswell Road in Monroe and is an Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, Veteran, Disability Institution.

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