Record high temperatures at Christmas, air conditioners running on and off all week, and now a nosedive of temperatures is predicted starting late Saturday and continuing through Monday! Talk about a rollercoaster ride. The question on many gardeners' minds now is what to do with all the plants that are growing and blooming in their yards and gardens.
The mild temperatures have a lot of plants confused. While this is the time of year for sasanqua camellias to bloom,
we usually don't see roses,
in full bloom in late December. We still have some summer annuals
and tropical plants growing, and perennials blooming.
Some gardeners still have tomatoes and peppers that made it through our last light freezes. Some summer plants that started to go dormant and didn't get completely killed, have actually started growing again and putting on new leaves and flowers.
Fall and winter vegetables have taken advantage of the mild conditions and are almost ready for harvest. Many spring blooming bulbs have put on a considerable amount of growth. What will take cold temperatures and what won't?
Pay attention to the weather in your area. If you look at the weather forecast today, the temperatures in central Arkansas are going to start dropping after midnight Saturday, (so early Sunday). Right now, the low is only predicted to be 27, but the high on Sunday is only 34! The northern tier is supposed to get colder. Fayetteville is showing a high Saturday of 59 and a low of 13! Texarkana is forecasted to be a high of 74 and a low of 24 on Saturday. Quite a difference in a 24-hour period, and a huge difference from the balmy conditions all week. It looks like skies will be overcast, and the day windy--both good scenarios for plants.
Fast forward to early morning Monday, and temperatures can get as low as 21 in central Arkansas, 24 in south Arkansas and 13 in the northern tier, with clear skies. That can be a problem for even hardy winter vegetables. You cannot save everything, so decide what is important. Wait for the rain to stop Saturday afternoon, before covering.
Don't waste time trying to protect summer annuals or tropical plants, they shouldn't be around now anyway--we got an extra bonus from them already, so forget about those. If you actually have broccoli,
or cabbage heads formed or almost ready for harvest, the plants will be less cold tolerant than just small, green plants. Invert a cardboard box or large flowerpot over them,
or harvest what is usable. Lettuce is as not cold tolerant as other winter greens, so cover it or harvest what you have. Some gardeners have spears of asparagus growing--enjoy an early harvest, and then mulch the ground well.
The open blooms on Camellias will probably be toast Monday morning, so cut a small bouquet to enjoy indoors--same with roses. Many large loropetalums are in full bloom now and those blooms won't survive a hard freeze either, nor will open blooms on azaleas,
buddleia, flowering quince or winter jasmine. Smaller plants can easily be covered with large pots, buckets, or inverted cardboard boxes,
but large shrubs and trees are hard to successfully protect. Hopefully there will be more flower buds for later in the season, when spring officially arrives.
If you have perennials that have started growing, add some extra mulch around them,
or cover with pots, boxes, or row covers.
Leaving some air space between the plants and the covering gives added protection.
Plants can be covered for several days with no problems. Leave the foliage alone--don't cut it; and avoid contact with plants when they are frozen. Pansies and other winter annuals should be ok once they defrost, and the weather warms back up.
How much damage this will cause is anyone's guess. The only saving grace is there has been ample rainfall, and the plants are not dry. Windy, cloudy days will cause less damage but clear, still nights will lead to colder temperatures. The bad news is how warm it has been leading up to this cold event. Many plants have started to break dormancy, or never have gone completely dormant yet.
It looks like the weather Tuesday and Wednesday will be better, but there is a predicted 22 low on Thursday, so pay attention to the weather. While you can't save everything, there are some things you can do that will make a difference. Winter is just getting started. Weather is always a factor for gardeners and farmers. Good luck, and Happy New Year!