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Green Speak

Horticulture topics from gardens to lawns and then some.

Extreme Cold and Your Plants


Being a fan of winter, this weather has been an absolute blast, but even I must admit- darn it's cold out there. One question I have been hearing a lot is "What about our plants?" Well, if you religiously adhere to the USDA cold hardiness zones then you should have nothing to fear. More than likely your trees, shrubs and perennials will emerge and leaf out to greet the spring. But who are we kidding? We gardeners are notorious for pushing the envelope when it comes to growing plants which are not necessarily suited to our local climate. As I sit here in USDA hardiness zone 5, I wonder, did my zone 6 magnolia and crape myrtles make it? What about the garlic I planted in my containers? Only time will tell.

We have been fairly lucky that with each severe cold snap we had an insulating layer of snow. For the most part I am not worried about my zone 6 plants, having sited them in areas with southwest exposure, blocked from desiccating winds and the advantage of radiant heat from adjacent hardscapes and buildings. For my perennials and garlic I made sure to apply shredded leaf mulch as an insulating barrier to the cold temperatures.

Want to read more about plants and their ability to survive cold? Check out Sandy Mason's recent column- Predicting a Plant's Ability to Survive the Cold.

Ever wonder how plants adapted to withstand freezing temperatures in the first place? After all, the Earth used to be much warmer with a predominately tropical climate. So how did plants acquire the ability to survive the big cool down? Following is a link to an informative and timely video by the MinuteEarth team illustrating the answer to this very question. How do Trees Survive the Winter?


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