Pay Attention to Fragile Plants Before Frost, Freezes Hit
It is that time of the year to start thinking about frosts and freezes and their effects on fragile plants. Most garden plants, assuming they’re hardy in your area, will weather the winter without any problem. An abrupt, early freeze may cause them to drop their leaves prematurely or cause some tissue damage, but most will rebound next spring. However, there are exceptions.
Bring Tender Plants Indoors
Depending on where you live, some plants may behave as either annuals or perennials that simply can’t handle even a light frost. Many people don’t bother trying to extend the life of plants generally not meant to last more than a year and let them die back after a freeze hits. However, if you grow tender annuals and perennials in pots and want to save them, move the pots into the garage or house when frost threatens and take them back out when the weather warms a bit, at least for a week or two. This process allows the plant acclimate better to a drastic change in growing conditions. Tropicals can go in the house or garage before temperatures drop below 45 degrees F. Before bringing them inside, spray any plants that appear to have pests, such as spider mites and aphids. A solution containing neem oil works well for treating these pests. Once the plants are inside, cut back on watering and withhold applying any fertilizer until next spring.
Don’t forget to prepare your house for the new arrivals. There’s nothing worse than watching the evening weather, only to discover that a freeze is on the way, and realize that you don’t have any room for your plants. Protect the roots of potted plants by placing them next to a wall and burying the pots in mulch.
Provide Protection to Evergreens
Evergreens in pots can be especially vulnerable. If their roots freeze, they may not make it through the winter. Those in large pots may be fine during mild winters, but evergreens in small pots should be protected. Place them against a wall and cover the pots with mulch or shredded leaves. Keep them watered throughout the winter. Don’t allow the root balls of evergreens in the garden dry out completely, even if it means dragging the hose out in the middle of winter and giving them a thorough soaking.
Cover Tender Seedlings in the Garden
Fall veggies, especially tender seedlings, may need protection, although most can survive temperatures of around 28 degrees F with little or no tissue damage. Nevertheless, when the forecast calls for temperatures in that range, keep a few blankets handy to cover crops overnight. During the day, if temperatures rise above freezing, remove the blankets so that excessive heat doesn’t accumulate beneath the coverings. Some people use clear plastic to protect their plants. Plastic causes more accumulation of heat, which is good, but if you don’t take the plastic off before direct sun hits it the next day, your plants will cook.
Resist Cutting Back Ornamental Grasses
If you grow ornamental grasses, resist the temptation to cut the foliage back until late winter or early spring because all that top growth helps insulate the root ball. That’s especially true if the grass is only marginally hardy in your area. Keep in mind that freezes don’t just affect plants. They can wreak havoc on other features in your garden as well.