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OPINION | JANET B. CARSON: Breaking Ground

by Janet B. Carson December 31, 2022 at 1:31 a.m.
Pansies blasted by deep freezes usually rebound, and other cold-melted plants might recover — or not. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)


I think we are all ready for a new year and, hopefully a kinder, gentler gardening season.

We sure ended 2022 with a bang, with record low temperatures, frozen pipes and possibly frozen plants. We won't know for sure what real damage was done until spring arrives and plants begin to grow — or not.

If you do suspect damage to plants, or see visible signs, ignore it for now, unless you see broken branches. Winter, unfortunately, has just started and who knows what is in store for us. If there are damaged leaves, they can serve as protection for the rest of the plant. Don't prune until spring arrives and we can assess.

Many gardeners did attempt to cover plants, but the extremely low temperatures, coupled with high winds, caused coverings to blow off. The winds might have been a blessing in disguise, keeping frost from settling as heavily; but again, time will tell. I think we all are keeping our fingers crossed that this is the coldest weather we will see this season.

If we do see more cold weather, here are some pointers to remember.

◼️ In the winter, plants go dormant, similar to bears hibernating. Evergreen plants retain their leaves, but they basically shut down their systems for the winter.

◼️ You will see no new growth, but moisture is in the plant to buffer the leaves from freezing weather. If it has been extremely dry and the forecast includes a cold snap, water your more-tender plants, and particularly containerized plants. Dry plants are even more susceptible to freeze damage.

◼️ When temperatures dip below freezing you may see some evergreens that look wilted or deformed. This is especially noticeable on larger leaved plants such as aucuba and winter annuals like pansies. As soon as they thaw out, the leaves return to their normal shapes. When frozen, those leaves are brittle, so you should avoid contact with frozen plants. Leaves or branches can snap off, causing permanent damage.

◼️ Evergreen plants can be more susceptible than deciduous plants to ice and snow damage because of the added weight of the winter precipitation on their foliage. Deciduous plants are those that lose their leaves in the fall or early winter. Bare branches can shed precipitation more easily than those with leaves or needles.

◼️ You have all seen pine trees bending low with a heavy coat of snow or ice. If you have landscape plants that you can reach easily, lightening the load of snow with a broom or rake can help, but don't touch the plants if they are covered in ice.

◼️ When shifting snow, use a gentle motion from the underside of the plant. If it is snowing, chances are temperatures are below freezing, so you want to avoid damaging the plants while trying to reduce snow weight.

◼️ If you do see winter damage, don't be too quick to prune. Broken limbs or branches should be cleaned up as soon as you notice them, but cold-burned foliage can actually serve as protection.

◼️ We will always have milder days in between cold ones. When we do get a warmup, consider more garden cleanup. Some winter annuals or late vegetables might not have survived the cold and can be removed.

◼️ Trees shed their leaves later than usual this fall, and we also got a lot of rain, and so many of us still have leaves that need to be raked. A light layer of leaves won't damage a lawn, but if you can't see grass beneath the leaves, the lawn is not getting any sunlight and can be damaged even though it is dormant.

◼️ Speaking of lawns, winter weeds don't seem to be deterred by the cold weather. Spots of green in the form of chickweed, henbit, wild garlic and more are gracing many a landscape. For annual winter weeds in a flower bed, pull them up or use a sharp hoe. Herbicides are available, but be sure whatever you buy is labeled for your lawn grass, and that you apply on a mild day — not when it is below freezing.

◼️ If you still have winter annuals, fertilize them on a mild day to keep them growing and, hopefully, blooming.

◼️ Any spring bulbs that you bought this fall and didn't get planted need to go in the ground ASAP.

Janet Carson's blog is at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet.


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