Protect your plants throughout the cooler winter months

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By Shirley Waggoner-Eisenman
Master Gardener
In this area of North Carolina, protecting your plants from cold is easy enough to do, since our winters are mild; however, certain plants need protection from the cold to survive the winter months.
Protecting your plants in winter does not mean you have to keep them warm. It simply means providing protection from damaging winds, snow, ice, alternate freezing and thawing of the soil and heat from the sun on cold days.
Evergreen plants can be protected by reducing water loss, as they will continue to lose water during the winter months. Be sure to water evergreens during winter months so moisture may be taken up through the root system. Plants transpire water through their leaves. Wind and cold days can result in water loss.
Plants should be protected during freezes and dry periods. Extra mulch will help reduce water loss and keep the soil from freezing and thawing as quickly. Just till the mulch into your garden next spring.
Small evergreens can be protected by using a windbreak made out of burlap, canvas or similar materials. Black plastic should be avoided as a wrapping material during the day. Extreme temperature will build up inside the plastic and speed up the growth of buds for next spring when late frost may nip them.
If you plant only varieties that are hardy in this area, the need for cold protection will be at a minimum.
Locate less hardy plants in the highest part of your yard; low spots get the cold air first. A hedge, fence, or small shrubs will give good cold protection.
Do not plant tender plants on the south side of the house where there is no shade or protection from winter cold. If plants are shaded from the early morning sun, there is less damage from freezing.
Plants freeze slowly, and if allowed to thaw slowly, there is less damage. Allow plants to “harden off’ before winter; in late summer, stop feeding them quickly-available nitrogen.
Plastic is an excellent covering for plants. Never let the plastic touch the plant itself. Plastic will trap moisture and warm air as it radiates from the soil. Shade the plastic covering to keep the temperature from building up inside the plastic. You do not want to cook the plants.
Offering first-aid to damaged plants can sometimes save the plant from decay and possible loss. Do not be in a hurry to prune bent limbs, as they may return to their natural state. Give them time to do so before pruning. If a limb is broken, prune as soon as possible, making a clean cut with a sharp tool.
If corrective pruning is needed, consider pruning the entire plant so new growth will be in balance. Many trees can be straightened by attaching a cable or guy wire about three fourths of the way up and pulling it into position. You should pad the tree against damage from the cable or guy wire.
If a tree is uprooted and you want to save it, straighten and stake, then remove damaged roots and limbs. Keep the tree mulched and watered during stress periods.
Send your gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P.O. BOX 109, Bolivia, NC 28422, or call 253-2610. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if requesting information or a reply. Answers may be printed in this column.