While it is generally easy to care for outdoor plants in summer and spring – or in places with temperate or warmer climates all year round – it is still entirely possible to keep yours alive long enough to see another growing season when temperatures begin to fall by following some of the best winter plant care tips.
To that end, we asked a professional green thumb how you can help your outdoor plant survive the cold months. This is his best practice for doing just that.
1. Be wary of excess water buildup
“Plants can often survive sub-zero temperatures, but only if their roots are well drained, because when the water sits in the roots, it rots them,” says Clive Harris, garden expert and founder of DIY Garden, one of the UK’s best garden blogs, adding that it It is common for plants to have water logged in the winter when there is less sunlight. “That’s the main reason plants die in the winter – not the cold,” he says. As a result, your best bet is to drain your plants regularly or wait longer than usual between waterings if you have received a lot of rain or snow.
If possible, keep the plants out of extreme cold and rain
“Plants contain a lot of fluid in their cells, which can freeze, and then frost crystals can puncture membranes, effectively killing the plant,” says Harris. Overwatered plants are more prone to frostbite, so be sure to water them only as needed and drain them after any exposure to heavy rainfall, and take outdoor plants inside if you can before large freezes.
3. Prepare your plants for temperature drop earlier in the year
“Unhealthy plants are more susceptible to disease and winter weather, as weak plants simply can not cope with sub-zero temperatures, strong winds and freezing rain,” says Harris. So give your plants regular hydration and nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, all of which are found in healthy soil (along with carbon, hydrogen and oxygen). “Don’t let them dry out, and be sure to feed them liquid plant food in the spring,” Harris says. “Good care throughout the growing season will ensure that the plants are healthy enough to withstand the winter.”
4. Make a mulch application
A thick layer of mulch can be a great booster for plant health and safety during a cool fall and especially in winter when there is potential exposure to snowfall and frost. “An application of bark chips, such as used compost or organic material, in the early winter absorbs excess rainwater and prevents your plants from becoming waterlogged and then frozen,” says Harris.
5. Consider your zone before planting
Unfortunately, not all plants you might want to keep in your garden will work well in your particular climate and zone. (To find yours, check the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.) “Plants are imported from all over the world, and non-native plants may not suit your local conditions,” says Harris.
So while it may be disappointing at the moment, it is best to follow the rules and avoid wasting time, energy, money and emotional pain by buying plants that are ultimately not suitable for your area. Instead, plant something that is more likely to thrive and live longer from the start.
6. Choose native plants for less maintenance
If you know you do not have much time to care for your plants, picking plants that require less attention and care will guarantee a longer life. Just as you might choose plants based on the USDA zone you live in (see above), you should also look for plants that are native to your region to ensure that they will thrive year-round with minimal effort from your side .
“When selecting plants in the nursery, choose native plants that are able to cope with your local winter conditions, as natives more often than not can stand without any special winter care simply because they fit the area,” says Harris.
7. Plant in the ground instead of in a container if you can
Imagine a plant with its roots hidden in the ground. The soil provides a thick blanket of insulation and lets the water run off, helping to avoid excess moisture while keeping the plant adequately hydrated.
“In contrast,” plants in a container do not have this protection, and they are more likely to need water. Then cold temperatures can attack them from the sides and from below, simply because the containers are just not hot enough, “says Harris.
8. Avoid planting in the spring until after the last frost
One of the best winter plant care tips is simply to get the timing right for spring. “Roots need warm, moist soil to grow and spread, and they can’t do that in the cold, hard soil, so wait until it’s warmed up a bit,” Harris says.
9. Protect your plants from frost
Frost will damage plant cells and in turn contribute to water logging, which will kill plants quickly. So when frost is present, you should not only wait to plant new seeds, but also take care of the plants you already have in the soil or in containers by protecting them from exposure.
Use covers, such as plant globes and tunnels, if you are working on a larger area. Or do it yourself instead of buying them online. “You can make covers of plastic milk cartons as long as you just wash them thoroughly,” Harris says. “Cut the lid off and place it over a tender plant. It stops frost from settling on the plant and prevents cell rupture,” he says.
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