Friday, January 31, 2014

GMG's Friday Find: Tips to Protect Plants In a Cold Snap

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The extreme cold temperatures of this winter have some people wondering how to care for their outside and inside plants.  Many are finding that Jack Frost is an unwelcome visitor, especially in locales that rarely see freezing temperatures.

Why the worry?  Because frost can not only damage but kill plants.  Ice crystals form in plant cells making water unavailable to plant tissues and the movement of fluids. You can identify frost damage if you see leaves that look water-soaked, have shriveled or appear dark brown or black.

Here are some tips on how to protect your plants from succumbing to harsh, cold temperatures.

Indoor Plants:

* When the temperature drops outside it's good to take some extra care to keep your houseplants happy.  If they live close to a window, make sure they're not touching the panes of glass which could freeze their leaves.  Take a piece of cardboard and place it between your plant and the window.

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* Avoid putting your houseplants on heater vents as this can quickly dry out the soil and harm the plants' roots. Place your plants near a sunny window grouping them together. Being in a 'crowd' helps them share the heat.  Any ambient light from your indoor spaces is helpful, as well as grow lights which really crank up the heat and light.

* Cut down on watering by half  until active growth resumes, and hold off on fertilizing during the cold months of winter.

* Indoor plants like a nice warm bath occasionally.  Re-use your pasta water, letting it cool a bit to water your houseplants.  Stagger the usual waterings with warm water to rejuvenate the plants roots.

* Provide a fresh cover up by replacing the top third of the potting soil with new potting soil.

* If the weather permits, open your doors and windows for a brief time to flush in some fresh air. This is good for you and your plants.

Outdoor Plants:

All outdoor plants have a specific tolerance for cold weather.  You can easily check to see if any plants you have in your garden can be harmed by a slight or hard frost depending on the hardiness zone you live in.

Plants are most vulnerable at night when temperatures drop. Keep an eye out for a frost or freeze and protect your plants before the sun goes down.  Remember to take coverings off during the day so the plants can get the full benefit of the sun.

* You've probably got the necessary 'tools' right in your home to protect your outdoor plants.  Try newspaper, a spare bed sheet, wicker baskets or clothes hampers, buckets or any sturdy container. If using fabric, avoid any that are heavy and could weigh down branches or limbs.

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* Make a tepee by using 3 pieces of wood stuck into the ground, twine the top to connect them and place a tarp around it to protect larger plants or shrubs from the cold.

* Short on time?  Grab a porch chair or table, place it over the plant or plants and cover with a sturdy blanket.  This creates a quick shelter to shield  the plants from freezing temps.

* Cut off the top of a 2-liter soda bottle or an empty milk jug and place them over smaller plants.

* Apply a 2-3" layer of mulch to the base of your plants. Mulch is a great insulator and helps to keep heat and moisture around the root systems.

* Most garden centers and big boxes sell plant covers in various styles and price ranges.

Plants are resilient, so don't be overly concerned if you do see frost damage. Wait until the spring to see if new growth appears at the base of the plant and then begin pruning out damaged parts.  With a little TLC now during our extreme weather, your houseplants and garden plants can weather the storm and come back strong in Spring.  We'd love to hear other tips you may have for cold weather plant care.

Garden Media Group