As winter chills state, use these tips to maximize life of your plants


Home (Indoor plants and activities):

  • Check water levels in cut flowers daily.
  • Check stored produce and flower bulbs for rot, shriveling or excess moisture. Discard any damaged items.
  • Most houseplants require less water in the winter because growth is slow or stopped. Check the soil for dryness before watering.
  • Move houseplants to brighter windows, but don’t place plants in drafty places or against cold windowpanes.
  • Early blooms of spring-flowering bulbs can make good gifts for a sweetheart. Keep these plants in a bright, cool location for longer-lasting blooms. Forced bulbs make poor garden flowers and you should discard them as blooms fade.

Yard (Lawns, woody ornamentals and fruits):

  • Choose appropriate plant species and cultivars, and begin drawing your landscape plans.
  • Cut branches of forsythia, pussy willow, crabapple, quince, honeysuckle and other early spring-flowering plants to force them into bloom indoors. Place the branches in warm water, and set them in a cool location.
  • Check mulches, rodent shields, salt/wind screens and other winter plant protections to make sure they still are in place.
  • Prune landscape plants (except early spring bloomers) that should be pruned after flowers fade. Birches, maples, dogwoods, and other heavy sap bleeders can be pruned in early summer to avoid the sap flow, although bleeding is not harmful to the tree.
  • Delay pruning fruit plants until you can assess winter injury.

Garden (Flowers, vegetables and small fruits):

  • Order seeds before it’s too late for this year’s planting.
  • Sketch your garden plans. Remember to include plants to replace or replant crops that you will harvest in spring or early summer.
  • Prepare or repair lawn and garden tools for the upcoming season.
  • Start seeds indoors for cool-season vegetables so they will be ready to transplant to the garden early in the season. You should start broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage seeds five to seven weeks prior to transplanting.
  • Test leftover garden seed for germination. Place 10 seeds between moist paper toweling or cover with a thin layer of soil. Keep seeds warm and moist. If less than six seeds germinate, then purchase fresh seed.

The Big Chill

When winter temperatures dip below zero and winds howl across the prairie, gardeners may worry that their trees and shrubs are taking a beating. No need for doom and gloom yet – most hardy landscape and orchard plants are reasonably able to cope with most of our winters, including our recent polar vortex.

Many factors influence plant injury, including plant species and cultivars, degree of plant dormancy, and overall plant health. Other factors include how low the temperature goes, how long it stays there, and how well-acclimated plants are at the time of the cold snap.

Much of Indiana endured numerous days of near- or below-zero temperatures and high winds. While it is too soon to know how much damage to expect, the good news is that plants should have been fully dormant prior to the worst of the weather. Snow cover helps by providing considerable insulation.

Severe lows coupled with high winds may cause some dieback of twigs and winter burn on ornamentals, especially evergreens. Broad-leaved evergreens are the most susceptible. Winter desiccation injury occurs when the roots can’t absorb water fast enough to keep up with moisture lost by the foliage (through transpiration). This occurs mainly on sunny days, especially if it is windy and the soil water is frozen – the plant can’t absorb it – or if water is in short supply. Injury appears as brown leaf margins or needle tips at the onset of warm weather

Generally, flower buds are more sensitive to cold than leaf buds, so flower buds on some fruit species such as peaches, nectarines, and blackberries have likely been damaged. However, it is likely that some flower buds will survive, enough for at least a partial crop. Grapes may also have significant bud loss, particularly on more tender cultivars. Species or cultivars that are marginally hardy will likely suffer dieback, or possibly death, but this may not be obvious until spring thaw or later. You will want to delay major pruning until after you can assess winter damage.

There is still plenty more winter to endure before we will know the status of our plants. There isn’t anything to do to control the weather, so stay safe and warm and dream of warmer days to come.