Rowan's wacky winter weather keeps gardeners guessing

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 23, 2006

Trying to describe weather to someone from other areas of the country is not easy.

I guess my best description of winter weather in Rowan County is atypical. It’s often difficult to determine how landscape plantings will respond with temperatures in the teens earlier this week and predicted highs in the mid-70s on the weekend.

Temperature extremes often trick landscape plants into growing out of season. Many ornamentals and, most often, fruit trees bloom early with fluctuating temperatures. Heavy pruning stimulates growth, so home gardeners should avoid pruning of flowering plants, especially fruit trees, until late winter or early spring.

Mid-March is generally a safe time to severely prune evergreen shrubs and fruit trees, avoiding winter damage to sensitive trees and shrubs.

Fertilizing shrubs in late summer can also create potential winter kill problems. Avoid fertilizing after mid-August. Fertilizing ornamentals with heavy potassium helps reduce the incidence of winter kill.

Irrigating trees and shrubs in the fall and winter is also very important to the survival when freezing weather occurs. Keep alert to extremes in weather and make sure landscape plant materials are irrigated deeply just before the ground freezes.

Ironically, some of the driest weather during the year can be in the fall and winter months. Irrigation is especially vital for evergreen trees and shrubs because they transpire moisture all winter long.

Adequate soil moisture also serves as a buffer against very low soil temperatures by holding more heat in the soil. Serious root damage can occur in very dry soils where the frost penetration will be deeper and the soil temperatures much lower.

Trees and shrubs can be protected from winter damage with an application of organic mulch. Fall and early winter is a good time to apply mulch. Six to 8 inches of coarse wood chips, bark or pine straw over the root zone helps retain soil moisture also maintains a constant soil temperature around the roots.

When ice is predicted, wrap branches of small trees and shrubs together to prevent splitting of limbs and branches. Bailing twine or string tied to the branches holds limbs together, preventing limb breakage. Wrapped trees or shrubs should look similar to wrapped Christmas trees as they arrive on a lot. Burlap can also be used as wrap around the plant. Secure the burlap with twine or rope.

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Darrell Blackwelder is an agricultural agent in charge of horticulture with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. For archived garden columns or other information, visit the Rowan County Master Gardener Web site at www.rowanmastergardener.com or call704-216-8970.

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