Just as things were looking up for Georgia gardeners after last month’s rain, Northeast Georgia had temperatures in the teens just after the New Year’s holiday. Unfortunately, drought-stressed plants will likely be hit hard.
The December rains have helped some with our water shortage, but for some plants, it’s too little too late. Our recent freezing temperatures will likely make things worse for many trees and shrubs.
Plants that are already in poor condition when winter weather hits are far more susceptible to damage. During a drought, stressed plants may loose part of the canopy and some of their roots. They simply won’t be as strong.
Plants still trying to recover from being so dry may not have enough potassium or other nutrients that help protect them from winter damage.
The recent rain will help prevent some further plant damage, but it won’t help with the stress they have already accumulated. Brief, heavy rains are good for the water supply, but plants can only absorb so much water at one time.
Plants need moisture to protect them from cold, dry wind just like people do. You need to get moisture to plants in the winter if you can; it’s like trying to avoid chapped lips.
You want to keep the cold wind from drying out the foliage, resulting in tip burn.
Another problem Georgia landscapes usually face is rapid temperature change. Plants benefit from gradual cooling that triggers them to become dormant in stages.
It has been so warm that some plants were lulled into a false summer, and they were shocked by the recent cold temps. Going from warm to cold so fast can cause serious problems. Plants that have cracked due to dry conditions can split and become more damaged during a fast freeze.
There are things you can do to help your plants through winter.
Mulch: That same layer of mulch you put out to conserve moisture can serve as a warm blanket to protect plant roots from freeze.
Don’t fertilize: Hold off on fertilizing trees, shrubs and perennials; the only exception would be winter annuals like pansies, violas and snap dragons.
Prune: If you see drought or freeze damage on plants, prune them. Prune plants to shape and size, too. Cut back to clean, green tissue. It can save on water needs down the road. The best time to prune many common shrubs in Georgia is the first few weeks of February.
Water: If you’re inclined to collect and reuse water from inside the home, it will certainly do your drought-stressed trees and shrubs a world of good.
Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County Extension Coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.