While it's nothing compared to what our neighbors up north experience, Madison County does get cold weather and even freezes in some areas. Proper planning and care can make the difference between the life and death of landscape plants. Different plants freeze and die at different temperatures. That is why they are given a hardiness rating. Some plants produce special hormones that keep them from freezing, and these plants have a lower hardiness rating (meaning they can survive colder weather) than plants who produce less of this hormone. That being said, there are also different definitions of survival. A plant may lose all its foliage during a freeze, and some can regrow from the stems or even the roots. So, while the leaves cannot survive a certain temperature, other parts of the plant can.

Before a freeze, move tender potted plants to warmer, sheltered areas. Move any potted plants into your home, garage, shed or other structure. If a potted plant is too big or heavy to move inside, take the same steps you would to protect your other outdoor plants and cover it overnight.

Check your inventory of plant covers and frost blankets so that you'll be prepared when the time comes. Cover any delicate landscaping, such as flowers, vegetables and citrus plants, in the evening before a freeze. This will help to insulate your plants at night when the temperature drops. Consider using old bed sheets, plastic sheets, towels or blankets as covers. The heavier the cover, the better, but avoid draping a cover over a plant that can’t support the weight. For your smaller plants, consider placing a cage around them and drape your cover over the cage. Remember to anchor your covers so they’re as “airtight” as possible. You don’t want to remove your covers too early in the morning. Removing your cover too early can cause your plants to thaw more quickly and can cause severe damage.

Remember, don't fertilize cold-sensitive plants in the late fall or winter. Fertilizer application will encourage new growth, which is especially susceptible to cold injury. Proper care throughout the year will give your plants an edge in cold weather. Plants tolerate cold temperatures better and recover from injury faster when they're healthy. If, despite your efforts, your plants are damaged by cold, don't be too hasty to prune away the damage; just wait for spring. Cold-injured plants will sprout below the damage so you can accurately assess exactly where to prune.

Freezes are not ideal for our plants and we can’t prevent them. We can, however, take steps to protect our plants. For more information contact us at 706-795-2281 or clh@uga.edu.

Carole Knight is Madison County’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent.

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