58January 18, 2012

I am concerned about our weather. It seems that we have gone from one temperature extreme to another. If you are a regular reader of this column, you will remember that I have talked about the freeze/thaw cycle and how it can adversely affect your plants. If you are not familiar with it, let me explain it to you.

In the fall, the temperatures begin to drop. As the temperatures drop, the ground eventually freezes. As the ground freezes, the plants that are in the ground are slightly lifted by the action of the ground freezing. This lifting of the plant actually breaks off some of the root system of the plant. This does not harm the plant as long as the ground stays frozen. However, if the temperatures rise, the soil thaws and the plants ever so slightly settle back into the soil. If the temperatures then drop again, there is more damage to the roots from the soil freezing again. It is this freeze and then thaw cycle that can lead to significant damage to the roots of the plants. The damage shows up in the spring as temperatures begin to get warm. As the plants warm up, they need to take up water to hydrate the tissue of the plant. Since the roots have had extensive damage from the repeated freeze/thaw cycle, the plants will begin to grow and then begin to show signs of dying or they may just up and die.
The best way to prevent the damage from a repeated freeze/thaw cycle is to cover the ground around the plants with a layer of mulch in the fall. The mulch acts as insulation to keep the soil frozen once it freezes and helps to prevent the soil from thawing if we run into warm temperatures during the winter.
This winter we have had several freeze/thaw cycles. Sunday it was bitterly cold and now the weather folks are telling us that it may be in the upper 40’s on this coming Sunday. This works out well for attending the playoff game, but it does not bode well for your plants if the temperatures keep bounding up and down for the rest of the winter.

If you did not put mulch around your plants this fall, you can still do so to help to mitigate any damage that has happened to your plants. You can buy bags of bark mulch to spread around the base of the plants. I know the bags that we have at the store are frozen, but you can open bags and let Mother Nature thaw them out over a period of a couple of warm days and then spread the mulch around the plants. If you are really ambitious, you could bring the bags into the basement and let them thaw out. There is also a product we sell called Mainely Mulch that is a dried straw. This product can be spread directly from the bag without having to let it thaw out.

If you did not mulch your plants this fall, you should get busy and do the mulching now. It may be the difference between your plants growing in the spring or you having to dig up and replace a winter-damaged shrub or perennial.

Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.

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