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Protect your plants from cold winter temperatures
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Winter planning and protection is important for ornamental plants.

With exceptionally bitter cold temperatures, damage to woody shrubs and trees can be a problem in Georgia. From bud damage to burnt leaves, it is hard to know exactly how much our plants have suffered through the recent subfreezing temps and harsh ice storm. We will have to wait until late winter and early spring to see.

Several types of plant damage can occur during the cold months. Cold injury can affect all parts of a plant including fruit, leaves, roots, trunks and stems.

Leaves and stems usually show the damage first. Ice forms in the plant cells and kills the plant tissue. Leaves or stems become dark and mushy.

If the plant went through a proper cold acclimation process — in which plants prepare for winter — the plant can withstand these types of ice formations.

Windy, cold and dry conditions can also damage plants.

A plant loses water through evaporation when it exceeds normal water absorption. This will cause a drying out. Then scorching or leaf burn will show up on the leaves.

Flower and leaf buds can also be damaged by cold temperatures, especially when temperatures are low or fluctuate. Gardeners may see a reduction or total loss of blooms.

If you suspect bud or bloom damage, remove several buds and open them to reveal their condition. If the buds are green throughout, they are healthy. If they show signs of browning or a darkened condition, chances are they have been damaged.

This does not mean the plant is dead. It only means the foliage or flowering buds did not make it. This has happened a lot this winter in regards to the late flowering camellias. Don’t be tempted to prune out the damaged areas yet. Wait until later in March to see what has recovered.

Bark splitting is another form of cold damage. It is described as loose bark in different areas of the trunk.

As the bark defoliates from the dead tissue on the trunk, a canker may form. A canker usually forms as a darkened, moist area. This type of splitting can cause structural damage and may reduce the plant’s ability to transport vital nutrients and water throughout the plant. Several severe cankers can kill the plant.

Try some preventive measures to reduce cold damage.

Select plants tolerable of cold temperatures.

Choose a proper site to plant. The north and northwest sides of a home are usually the coldest in the winter. Low areas can harbor cold air. Try planting on the South and West sides of the landscape if possible.

Fertilize your plants at the proper time. A plant given the right nutrition is more capable of achieving cold acclimation.

Pruning prior to early spring growth will keep most plants from being susceptible to cold damage. And try to transplant in early fall.

Try to establish canopies and shade areas for plants that can be grown in the shade. The shelter reduces the winter drying out and water loss.

Windbreaks can be important in reducing injury to ornamentals. They can be structures such as fences, buildings and evergreen trees. Any object reducing cold winds and freezes around your home can help.

Container plants can be protected by placing them in a house or garage, under a covered patio or putting a protective covering over them. Push containers together or wrap them in burlap to decrease heat loss.

Mulching also helps reduce heat loss and retains moisture. Sound irrigating practices are essential for a healthy plant to be cold hardy.

Covering plants with sheets, blankets or boxes helps to protect them. Always remove the covering during the day for ventilation. Trapped solar radiation will heat up the environment around a covered plant and cause damage.

Use these tips to keep your plants healthy and less susceptible to injury.

Hopefully most will survive the cold and ice. Spring is right around the corner.

Wanda Cannon serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. Contact her at 770-535-8293 or wcannon@hallcounty.org. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.

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