Even though the temperature outside is close to 75 degrees as I write this, I am going to talk about protecting your plants from cold weather. We have had some colder weather in the past two weeks, but nothing that is cold enough to damage plants.
But that doesn't mean that we won't. Remember last Easter? We had a cold front come through, and we are still seeing the damage from that freeze. It doesn't matter where you live in Georgia, cold can damage your plants.
But there are management practices you can use to reduce the chance of damage to your plants, and now is the time to use these practices to help them get through this winter.
The best way to prevent cold damage is to select a plant that can tolerate cold temperatures. When you buy plants, you need to check the tag or research the plant to determine the minimum temperature that the plant can withstand. In addition, you need to think about the heat index. Will the plant survive our summers? Our area will fall into the plant zone of 7a or 8b.
In addition to plant selection, you need to think about the microclimate of your yard. Every yard has areas that are hotter or colder than others. During the winter, the north and northwest facing part of your yard will be the coldest. The south facing will be the warmest area.
Why is this important? When planning where to put your prized plant, you will want to place the least cold-hardy plants on the south side of your yard. These plants will do better near your house or buildings, because the buildings hold heat and this keeps the temperature around these plants warmer. Plants that are cold-hardy can be planted in other areas of the yard.
Also, you need to survey the yard for low spots and high spots. Remember: cold air sinks and low spots in the yard will be colder. Flowering plants and fruit trees need to be planted in higher areas to keep from losing the flowers and fruit.
Other features to look for in your yard are windbreaks and shade. Wind can dry plants out and increase the chance of cold damage. In the winter, the coldest winds come from the northwest.
So, you can reduce the chance by planting near fences, buildings and taller plants. Windbreaks are most useful in reducing injury when we have an invasion of a cold air mass.
Plants that are grown in shade are less susceptible to cold damage because the canopies above the plants help reduce the radiant heat loss.
However, if a plant grows better in full sun, the stress from the shade will make the plant less cold-hardy.
Plants that have proper nutrition and moisture levels have a better chance of surviving freezing temperatures.
Fertilizing plants at the proper time of the year will give the new growth time to harden off before cold weather arrives. Plants that are fertilized too late will put on new growth, and this growth will not have time to harden off before cold weather arrives. You need to have all of your fertilization done before August.
Plants need adequate water to survive cold temperatures. You need to check the moisture level around your plants before a cold snap and water if necessary. Moist soil absorbs more heat, which helps to maintain an elevated temperature around the plants. During the winter, if we haven't had any rainfall in a two- to three-week period, you need to irrigate your plants.
To help conserve moisture and maintain higher soil temperatures, you need a mulch layer three to four inches deep. This will protect the root system of your plants.
If we have a sudden freeze or extended cold period, the damage to the plants might not be evident for several weeks or months. After determining how much damage was done, you can prune out the damaged areas.
If you have severe damage to certain plants, you need to think about moving these plants to another location and replacing them with more cold hardy plants.
Our area will have sudden freezes and cold snaps, but you can help your plants by following these simple guidelines.
Reach Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips at (706) 868-3413 or email@example.com.
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