If you woke to snow covered trees and 29 degree temps outside, then you know. February lied to us. February's sunny days tempted us into believing our spring lovelies were safe. It was a ruse. Reality accepted. So now (per the Weather Channel), this week's garden chore is to cover and uncover your sensitive plants. Here's how to do that.
I realize some of you are thinking, you're telling me now? Well, check your damage today, and remember you're covering again tonight. And, all may not be lost. The snow acts as an insulator. Read about that here.
Pick your Battles
As in, pick a vase of daffodils and call that one done. Or, the eye-popping yellow forysthia you've drooled over all week, maybe memorialize it on social media. I took a daffodil walk around my neighborhood and local parks yesterday, snapping a few IPhone pictures before the cold rendered them brown, and literally nothing could be done about the crabapple tree, except cut a few branches and remember I want to do Ikebana one day. The Itoh peonies are covered with the bright. green recycle bin, and the Japanese maple that is leaving out will get covered. They're sensitive to cold.
Rule of thumb: Check for bud swell, fruit buds, flowers, developing fruit and emerging shoots. These are going to be the most sensitive to frost injury.
Before covering, water your plants well. One reason the covering works is that the tent you're making captures radiating heat from the soil. Turns out that moist soil radiates more heat, 4x more heat says Cornell University. So, before covering your plants, be sure to water. Best to do it just before covering.
Cover by 8/uncover by 8
Don't wait until dark to cover your plants. Besides the obvious reason of how much harder that is, you'll miss out on warmth from the soil that will dissipate the later you wait. Have everything covered by dusk, and uncovered by 8 a.m. As time saving as it sounds to leave plants covered all week due to week long, low, nightly temperatures, the plants need to breath during the day, and can easily overheat under the heavy covers or buckets. Try to have everything covered by 8 p.m. and uncovered by 8 a.m.
What to cover with
Basically, cover with whatever is on hand. Frost cloth, which we sell, is best, and can be stored in the garage for next year. But, blankets, sheets, pillowcases, buckets, old nursery pots, milk jugs, leaves, mulch, whatever you've got, make it work.
Pillowcases can be slipped over plants. Blankets, sheets and frost cloth are draped over, but they must go all the way to the ground, and be secured at the bottom to hold in heat, and not blow off if conditions are windy. Plastic is best on top of blankets for additional warmth but not next to plants due to possible condensation build up, which can cause damage to the plant. Here's the scoop on that.
For emerging perennials like peonies and salvias, depending on how much they're showing, leaves or mulch make a good covering for them. Though be sure to rake off the next day.
When considering what plants to purchase this year, remember this week and pick plants that bloom later or have a high tolerance for cold. Encore and Gumpo azaleas generally bloom long after the frost date is past (April 10 in Western North Carolina), making them perfect for our spring gardens. Some plants can handle light frost, but place sensitive plants like Japanese maples in protected areas. Don't buy summer annuals now, stick with the pansies, osteospermum, and other cool weather beauties. And, despite the tempting temperatures of those 60 degree days, stick with the cool season vegetables in your garden for now. The tomatoes can wait.
Wrap the bark of fruit trees with burlap to avoid splitting bark. Fruit trees typically have thin bark and this splitting is called frost crack. It creates a happy spot for insects and disease to harbor.
Enjoy the rest of the daffodils. Here's hoping some soldiered on. Click on a picture and then scroll through. Some are named, some are not. If you know the name, please comment below, and for all you ever wanted to know about daffodils, click here or here.
Don't forget. We're seven days until spring. The snow's a breather, but those March chores await.
Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach, outside sales, and blog writer.
BB Barns serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.