Help plants survive this wintry weather

  • By Lee Reich Associated Press
  • Wednesday, January 30, 2008 4:17pm
  • Life

What a wonder that plants can survive in winter.

At a time when humans bundle up and stay indoors, most plants have no choice but to stay put. They can’t stomp their limbs or do jumping jacks to get their sap moving and warm up.

But plants do survive. Some plants just die to the ground each winter, their roots surviving in the warmer ground and storing food until spring. That’s why asparagus stems turned brown last fall, and why coneflowers, delphiniums and peonies have been reduced to nothing more than a few dry stalks.

Here are some tips to keep your plants cozy in the cold:

Lay down a thick blanket of some fluffy organic material: Leaves, straw or wood chips will insulate the ground against cold to keep roots warmer. Five feet down, the ground remains a balmy 50 degrees year-round, and even a foot down, the temperature won’t reach the chill of air temperature. Under mulch, the ground stays even warmer.

Low growing plants whose stems and leaves stay alive through winter have it almost as good as those survived only by their roots. Hugging the ground, these plants are shielded from winter cold and wind. And if nature throws down a powdery, white insulating blanket, all the better.

Provide your own low blanket for low-growing woody plants: Again, that fluffy cover of straw, leaves, or wood chips. Wait to cover these plants until weather turns reliably cold so that stems have time to acclimate to cold and won’t rot beneath a cover that is moist and too warm.

Let plants toughen: One way trees and shrubs protect themselves from freezing is by shedding those parts most likely to freeze — their leaves. You can help plants along by assisting their leaf shedding. No, not by pulling off the leaves. Avoid fertilizing, pruning and excessive watering in late summer to allow plants to naturally slow down.

Anything that helps plants naturally shed leaves in late summer and fall also helps plants naturally toughen up for winter. Mostly, do nothing.

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