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Ask Burton: This week, a question of plant hardiness. Q: Can I still plant when it’s this cold?

Posted on January, 02

A: Absolutely. Overall, we don’t get THAT cold, and if a plant is cold hardy enough to tolerate our winter normally, it’s still likely just fine in-ground now, even when it is young.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when planting during cold weather:

• Is the plant normally hardy in our winter? Obviously, plants like bougainvillea, tropical hibiscus, and houseplants don’t belong outside right now.
• Has the plant been in a closed, warmly heated greenhouse the whole time? This is more often an issue with young flowers in their first crops of the season, in late January and February. Plants which are normally quite cold tolerant, such as dianthus, need a few days outside without severe cold weather to “harden off”, and this also applies to borderline hardy shrubs freshly up from warmer areas of South Texas or Louisiana in late winter. Plants require some cool weather to make the internal changes that allow them to survive sub-freezing weather without damage.
• Young plants don’t take hard freezes well if they’re very dry, so before severe cold, water newly installed plants in solidly. Give the plants adequate time to drip dry before the actual freeze, and turn off your sprinkler system so it doesn’t accidentally operate during a freezing night.
• Plants in containers are less cold tolerant than plants in ground, which is perfectly logical, as their root systems are far less insulated. Don’t be afraid to roll your containers planted with fresh young plants into the garage for a few days if we have a truly vicious cold snap or ice storm forecast, or cover them with a frost cloth when needed.

Burton specializes in diagnosing and solving plant problems. If you have a question for Burton, please email him at burton@covingtonnursery.com and include photos showing the problem.