How Can We Help Our Outdoor Plants Survive Old Man Winter?

— Written By and last updated by JoAnne Gryder

snow plantsSome trees and shrubs may be particularly susceptible to winter extremes because they retain their foliage. Evergreen foliage can dry out causing desiccation injury or hold snow and ice that can break branches. Other forms of winter injury can cause plant problems and homeowners can take steps to help prevent this problem.

The best method of dealing with cold injury is to avoid putting cold sensitive plants in the landscape. Plants are rated by their ability to withstand cold temperatures and are placed into zones. The Wilkes County hardiness zones are 7b and 6a, so any plant with a hardiness rating over 7 is not recommended.

Some plants can withstand mild winters but may be killed by extremely cold temperatures. Figs, for example, may survive temperatures as low as 10 degrees F, but they can be killed to ground level if the temperature gets below 10. Brown turkey and Celeste are fairly cold hardy figs, but they may be killed in extremely cold weather.

Cold sensitive plants can be placed in areas of the landscape that are warmer than others. Generally, the southern exposure of the landscape next to the house is considered the warmest area, particularly in brick houses. Windbreaks like buildings or hedgerows also prevent cold and wind damage to sensitive plants.

Snow and ice cause considerable damage to upright growing trees like Bradford pears and many evergreens. Little can be done for the plant in an ice storm except to avoid using these plants in the landscape. Knocking or brushing snow off of limbs will help to reduce the weight load and help prevent limb breakage.

Canopies and coverings can be useful in preventing plant injury, but they are used mainly in the spring to prevent bud or new growth damage. Remember to remove coverings during the day to prevent the area under the cover from becoming a little greenhouse.

Written By

Photo of Bill Hanlin, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionDr. Bill HanlinHorticulture Assistant (336) 651-7333 william_hanlin@ncsu.eduWilkes County, North Carolina
Updated on Nov 22, 2016
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