It’s here, the big bad winter. Excuse me while I chuckle a little. After spending 15 years in Minnesota where the soil freezes to a depth of 40 inches or more and temperatures drop below zero at least a few times over the course of the year, a Charlotte winter just doesn’t compare.
Regardless of where you live, however, the cold of winter can make it the most dangerous time of year for young plants.
To protect your plants from the perils of winter there are a few things that you should consider doing. First, if you have any tropical plants that can’t survive the cold, then bring them in for the winter. For most tropicals 40 degrees is about all they can handle. If you have containers that you keep planted over the entire year then you should consider replacing summer annuals with hardier ones that are more likely to survive the cold such as ornamental cabbages, violets and pansies.
If you have containers with tender perennials then you should definitely consider bringing them in for the winter. This doesn’t need to mean bringing it in the house. Simply placing the plant into a crawlspace or a garage should be sufficient to protect most plants. These rarely visited locations typically stay a few degrees above freezing allowing perennials to go dormant, but not freeze. Plants placed into a garage or crawlspace are dormant so they shouldn’t need much water, still, checking to make sure the soil they are potted in is moist once or twice over the course of the winter is a good idea.
Plants that remain in the ground but which are a little sensitive to the cold might need just a little help getting through the winter. Mulching around plants, such as lantanas and hibiscus will give tender roots a little bit of protection. The best types of mulch to use include pine bark or wood chips, applied to a depth of about 2-4 inches.
A second winter problem plants face is wind. Cold drying winds can be very damaging to plants because, over winter months, they can’t easily pull water from the soil to replace any moisture they lose. Damage from drying will not be evident until spring when the plant would normally flush out with new growth. When the trees start to turn color it is starting to get too late to water because plants can’t draw much water up from the soil without their leaves.
Jeff Gillman is director of the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens.