Plants In Winter

by Hobbies

The Japanese maple, crape myrtle, boxwood, snowdrops, and the tea plant are amongst the few varieties of plants that can tolerate climatic extremes, and survive the winter chill.

One of the most difficult aspects of winter is that most water is frozen, and plants cannot take up ice. They must stay where they are rooted, and adapt to the conditions around them. Evergreen plants keep their foliage, but their leaves and needles have thick, waxy coatings to reduce water loss. Deciduous plants handle the lack of water by shedding their leaves and go dormant. Trees may grow close to the ground or grow in shapes that help them shed heavy snow more easily.

Camellias are slow growers that prefer partial shade

Camellia flowers
Camellia flowers

Winter plants

  1. The tea plant (Camellia sp.): Camellias are slow growers, averaging about 10 feet in height. They require rich acidic soil and need to be kept uniformly moist. They prefer partial shade. Some cold weather varieties include the Frost Prince, Snow Flurry, and Ashton's Snow.
  2. Japanese maple: It is a deciduous tree native to Asia. Some varieties grow to a height of 15 feet. They are prized for their fall foliage, which is often red and sometimes golden. The overall silhouette can vary from vase-shaped to cascading. They do best in loamy soil, a combination of clay, silt and sand. They require a well-drained soil and grow well in dappled light with some protection from the wind. Start new plants in spring, they are slow growers and make excellent potted trees or shrubs. They are prone to aphid infestation. Try companion planting with nasturtium or petunias to protect from pests.
  3. Flowering quince (Chaenomeles): Virtually indestructible, it can tolerate climatic extremes and neglect. This deciduous thorny shrub can stretch up to 8 feet wide, and makes a great natural fencing. Plant them in spring or fall.
  4. Snowdrops: When most other plants are hiding away from the winter chill, snowdrops are eager to get going. These small white bell-shaped flowers are suspended from short delicate stems. The traditional varieties grow only to 6 inches or so. They need to be kept uniformly moist and require a well-drained soil.
  5. Boxwood (Buxus): Evergreen boxwood hedges are easy to grow and shape, and make terrific borders for paths and garden outlines.
  6. Crepe Myrtle: A native of southeast Asia, this deciduous tree can reach up to 25 feet in height, with delicately ruffled flowers in shades from white to purple.

The Japanese Maple

Japanese Maple

Identify cold weather damage to plants

The number of hours of daylight is shorter in winter, so there is less sun, without which the plants cannot prepare their food. Some plants survive under the ground as tubers, tap roots, and bulbs. In the following spring, new leaves and shoots grow above the ground. 

Telltale signs of damage in plants due to cold weather:

  1. Damaged leaves and stems would appear brownish black and mushy due to freezing and formation of ice crystals in plant cells.
  2. Leaves turning brown and falling off, is a sign of dehydration in plants, that is common if the weather is windy in addition to being cold.
  3. Loose bark on the trunk, also known as bark splitting.
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Prevent cold weather damage

Elevation, canopies, windbreaks and other factors create micro-climates in the yard that can protect the plants from cold-induced damage.

The plants become acclimatized to a gradual decrease in temperature over a period of time. Sudden freezes after a period of warm weather often do more damage than a freeze during a period of cold weather. Acclimatization, protection, and proper post freeze pruning can help plants survive a freezing spell.

  • Avoid planting tender plants in low areas where cold air settles.
  • Arrange fences or other barriers to protect tender plants from cold winds.
  • Poorly drained soil results in weak, shallow roots susceptible to cold injury. Make sure, that the soil is well drained.
  • Proper plant nutrition. Well-nourished plants tolerate cold better.
  • Shading. A tree cover can reduce injury during some freezes. A canopy traps heat radiating from the ground, so areas under them can reach a high temperature through the night. 
  • Windbreaks. Fences, buildings, temporary coverings, and adjacent plantings can serve as windbreaks. Cloth sheets, quilts, plastic or commercial frost cloths can be used as coverings. Putting a light bulb under the cover is a simple method of providing heat to ornamental plants. Remove the plastic covers during a sunny day or provide ventilation to keep air under the cover from heating up too much.
  • Watering before a freeze would protect the plants. Wet soil absorbs more heat during the day and radiates it at night. On the other hand, prolonged saturated soil conditions can damage the roots.
  • Avoid late summer or early fall pruning, as it may lead to a flush of new growth, more susceptible to cold injury.
  • Move the plants in containers to protected areas where heat can be supplied or trapped. Push the containers together, if outdoors, and protect with mulch to reduce heat loss. 

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Reference sources:

Updated: 01/05/2016, Hobbies
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