The Richmond Register

Lifestyles & Community

February 11, 2014

Will the cold weather hurt my landscape?

RICHMOND — Do we live in a tundra or central Kentucky? I half expect to see a caribou on my way home from work. We have had mild winters for years, so I suppose we were due a bad one. While the cold weather has been hard on us, how is it affecting our plants?

There are several ways plants can be damaged or killed during these cold snaps.

Soil Heaving:

When we have alternating warm and cold weather, the ground freezes and thaws. This action can push shallow rooted or poorly established plants out of the ground. Having snow on the ground can actually be beneficial for preventing heaving. Otherwise, you can use mulch such as wood chips, straw or leaves. Just be sure to pull the mulch back in the spring.

Low Temperatures:

Plants have a temperature range in which they live. For example, cabbage can live under much cooler conditions than a palm tree can survive. The USDA has a Hardiness Zone Map which breaks down the country into zones based on average annual minimum winter temperature (http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/). We are a zone 6. If you used plants in your landscape that are meant for zones above 6, they will be more likely to experience damage than those which can tolerate cold temperatures. Damage may not be noticeable right away. Problems may not show up until several months later.

Some flower buds on plants such as dogwood and forsythia may be damaged by the cold we have experienced this winter, leading to a decrease in blooms this spring.

Freeze cracks:

Trees with thin bark such as maples or cherries may experience a split in the bark, primarily on the south or southwest side. This is due to sudden changes in temperature which causes the inner tissue of the tree to expand and contract. This can be prevented by using tree wrap to wrap the tree up to the first set of branches.

Winter Burn:

Evergreens, such as pine, yew, and azaleas, do not go dormant, like deciduous plants. Instead they continue to transpire and lose water out their leaves throughout winter. Damage can occur when the water leaving the plant is more than that which is coming in through the root system. When the ground is frozen beyond the depth of the roots, no water can be taken in. Windy conditions can dry the plant out even more quickly. To prevent this, it is important evergreens receive enough water in the fall. Also, plant them in protected areas, away from the wind.

So for the most part, our landscape plants should make it through the winter. After all, plants have been surviving winters for untold number of years. But if you do need to replace any plant, tree, or shrub this spring, be sure to choose one that is well suited for our area. Who knows what next winter may bring!

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