How Do Plants Survive Freezes?

This recent spate of freezing temperatures has got me thinking about how some plants in my garden seem to be unfazed while others turn to mush.  I find it fascinating that the flowers on my witch hazel, Cornelian cherry, Sarcococca, and even my beloved winter daphne haven’t skipped a beat while the early blooms of the Christmas Cheer and Olive rhodies and Camellias have turned completely brown.  Some plants just seem to be better adapted to dealing with freezing temperatures.  Why is this?  

More Things To Do!

Considering all the rain that we have received lately, it is probably safe to assume that most of us have not completed the tasks I wrote about last week.  I managed to hoe out some of my shot weed and spent one hour pruning some shrubs, but that was about it.  Hopefully the rest of you were able to do a little better.  Just in case you have run out of chores, here are a few more to consider...

February To-Do List

Okay folks, it’s time to get serious about gardening again.  Like I mentioned last time, it feela to me like we are going to have an early spring (unless it continues to rain like crazy and it stays dark, in which case it will be a late spring!  How’s that for some confusing information?)  Actually, when it is all said and done, spring never varies by more than a week or two, so I guess it is a moot point.  Here are a couple of areas to focus on for this week.  There will be more to come later…

This Is Your Last Chance To Goof Off

Like last week, I am giving you permission to lay low and take it easy for the rest of this month, but watch out!  Based on what is happening in my garden, I am going to predict that we will have an early spring.  The snow drops growing under my Winter Hazel have been blooming for 3 weeks now and my beloved Winter Daphne is just about to break bud - both of these being 2 weeks ahead of schedule.  The mild winter is causing a lot of plants to wake up early and we just might need to be ready to do the same thing....

What Every Gardener Really Wants

You’ve seen the ads this time of year, every car dealer is running them nonstop.  You can’t escape them.  It’s the one where it’s Christmas morning and out in the driveway is a brand new car with a giant red bow on it.  The family is ecstatic and jumping all over the place.  Their wildest dreams have come true and now their life is complete.  Clearly, this is not the home of a gardener....

My December To-Do List

I always feel bad sending out a list of chores this month.  Somehow it feels like we should be taking this month off and for the most part we probably can, but just in case you didn’t finish the tasks you should have accomplished in November, here are some thoughts to keep you busy…


WINTER PROTECTION:  So far we have had a very mild fall/winter.  Even this week, despite being below freezing for several nights, isn’t in any way what I would consider a “hard freeze” and certainly not an “Arctic Blast”.  But rest assured, sooner or later it will come and we should be ready to provide a little extra protection to broadleaf evergreens, like camellias, if we want to see pretty flowers in early spring.  Have some kind of frost blanket ready to go if the mercury drops into the low 20 or high teens and doesn’t go above 32 during the day.  


GENERAL CLEANUP:  I always approach winter clean up in stages.  By now most of my perennials have been cut back, with the exception of my various varieties of maiden grasses which have only been cut halfway back.  Like roses, I do the “hip high” in the fall and “knee high” in February technique, which is good for the plants but also gives me a different look through the winter - sort of a transition feeling between the seasons.  While I usually leave most of my leaf litter on the ground until February, this mild weather has sparked me to clean up a good portion of it already, which has had the added benefit of revealing several clumps of daffodils already breaking the surface.  Yes, the cycle of rebirth continues on in the garden and it is always a cause for celebration.


DISEASE AND INSECT CONTROL:  Clean up all leaves under fruit trees to prevent the spread of diseases.  The same holds true for roses and berries.  Applying a mixture of copper and oil or sulfur and oil works well to control scab and mildew and is relatively non-toxic.  Try to catch a dry day when it is above freezing to do your spraying. 




PRUNING:  Again, I save the “knee high” type of pruning until February, but if you have a limb that is slapping you in the face every time you go out the front door then for Pete’s sake, cut it off!  



LAWNS:  I know Cisco recommends a synthetic fertilizer this time of year because it is faster acting, but because I like to follow the “KISS” approach to gardening (Keep It Simple Stupid”), I stick with my “one size fits all” organic lawn food and it seems to work just fine.   Watch for moles this month, apply lime to sweeten the soil, and stay off the turf when it is frozen.


WEED MANAGEMENT:  Now is the time to literally “nip weeds in the bud”.  Remove them with a Hula Hoe (my favorite weeding tool) before they get too big and go to seed.  Once the ground is clean, apply a “weed preventer” (this is a product that keeps weeds seeds from germinating, but doesn’t bother plants that are already growing) and then spread a one inch layer of compost.  


WINTER INTEREST:  Yes, we can plant all year long in our mild marine climate.  Take a trip to Sunnyside to discover a whole new and exciting palette of plants that will liven up your garden through the winter.  It may be just what you need to keep you out of the depths of despair.