Cold weather is a cause of concern for plants that are not sturdy enough to handle it. Cold, frost, and winter winds injure their cell walls by freezing water that is present in the different parts. If not taken care of, tearing of cell walls result in wilting and blackening of leaves, ultimately leading to the destruction of the entire plant.
Few factors like plant species, plant condition, temperature fluctuations, and freeze duration determine a plant's ability to survive during cold weather. Generally, plants can survive a gradual decrease in temperature, but when the temperature drops suddenly, they fail to acclimate themselves to the sudden change in environmental conditions and do not survive.
Plant Injuries Due to Cold Weather
- Browning of plant parts
- Browning or discoloration of leaves
- Dehydration of the plant
- 'Frost cracks' or splitting of the bark
- Bud death
- Root injury
Tips to Protect Plants During Cold Weather
- Mulching is a great way to protect plants from cold and frost. Peat moss, leaves, sawdust, and straw can be used for mulching. Generally, a mulch layer of 2 inches is enough for protection. In some plants, mulch can be applied till the main stem, while in others, the layer must be 1-2 inches away from it. Therefore, it is better to figure out the requirement of a plant before applying mulch.
- Another way of protecting plants from cold weather is to use cloth for covering the plants. Old blankets, bed sheets, burlap or other fabric can be used to give protection. Cardboard boxes are also good for providing the required protection. To cover a plant properly, arrange 4 stakes in such a way that they encircle the plant and then drape the cloth over it. Make sure, the cloth does not touch the plant in any place. Keep it covered during winters, but as soon as the temperature comes back to normal, remove the drape and let the plant enjoy fresh air.
- When snow falls, take time out to remove snow from various parts of the plant. If snow is not removed, it can lose its natural shape and beauty and become disfigured. If at all the branches are already bent, try giving them support using a string.
- Set up a greenhouse to protect potted plants during winters. Move them into the greenhouse chamber, so that, they get the required warmth and light. If sheets of snow cover the roof of the greenhouse, remove it and let sunlight enter the setting.
- If a greenhouse is not available, you can keep the potted plants indoors or in the basement. Get them back in place once the weather stabilizes. It is better to buy frost-free pots for planting, so that, they do not crack due to extreme temperatures.
- Use frames covered with fleece to protect plants that are very delicate. Other methods like row covers, cloches, bucket protectors etc., can also be used for frost protection in the garden.
- Cold wind can also cause damage to the plants. For this, you can put up a fence or plant a tall row of evergreen trees to protect plants from wind damage.
- Watering of plants, before frost appears, is extremely necessary to prevent damage. Winds blowing during the season damage the plants by drying them out. Moisture in the soil can help in minimizing this damage.
- During cold winter nights, a plastic bottle filled with warm water can be placed under the plant cover to keep its immediate surrounding warm.
- A thin layer of snow can actually act as an insulator and prevent plant damage. That is why, if plants are covered with a light covering of snow, let it be, but if the covering thickens over time, it is better to remove it as it can cause much damage to the plant.
- Fertilizing the soil before the beginning of the freeze period will help in keeping the soil enriched with essential nutrients. This way the damage can be reduced, as nutrients required by the plant to survive in critical conditions will be available.
- Plants that defrost quickly are more susceptible to damage than the ones that take longer to defrost. Such plants must be covered with black plastic to block morning sunlight from coming in direct contact with them.
Recovering Winter-damaged Plants
- Damaged plants can be brought back to normal by fertilizing the soil with a good quality fertilizer having equal quantities of potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorous.
- Prune damaged plant parts to promote growth of new shoots and buds during spring.
- Transfer plants with little damage to the greenhouse, so that, they can easily recover from their damaged state.
To minimize plant damage during cold weather one must know how to protect plants, and plant only those species that are hardy enough to tolerate extreme temperatures. Other tender species can also be planted, but one must make sure to take all measures that are required to help them survive during such conditions. With the right care and protection, plants can fight back the odds of cold weather and keep growing for years to come.