Most of us have hosted Jack Frost in the last few weeks.
Tempted to remain in your home and indulge in Mulled wine, hearty stews and rich puddings…?
That’s what I would like to do, nourish my soul with the pleasures of comfort food, late mornings in bed, and a hot drink accompanied by a chocolate coated snack.
All of which there is no time for during spring and summer. And before we know, it will be that time and it will be all go for gardeners.
Gardening takes more effort in winter but is not necessarily less enjoyable. Wrap up warm, put on a funny hat, grab a few tissues for the nose drip and head outdoors. Is there anything better than thawing in the warm winter sun?
But let’s talk about what really happens to our plants during these frosty mornings.
What is frost?
It is water vapour from saturated air and it is formed when solid surfaces are cooled below the dew point of the air. Low temperatures cause the water in the plant cells to freeze which damages their cell walls.
What does frost damage look like?
Growth becomes limp, discoloured and disfigured. Freeze- thaw damage occurs when frozen cells defrost quickly in the morning sun. However, when temperatures start dropping, plant metabolism slows down, slowing growth down. As the plant reduces moisture content and stores sugars to provide growth for the next season, the sugar concentration increases. This forms a natural anti-freeze within the cells.
Soil moisture is a major factor in plant hardiness. Plants suffer more when their roots are in water logged soil. Wet soils are colder than drier soils and the roots freeze in the ground. Many plants can cope with severe cold if planted in well-drained soils. Plants will generally succumb in clay soils that have high moisture content with these heavier soils being slower to warm in spring.
Understanding how plant growth is affected by frosty winter soil emphasise the importance of preparing the soil before planting. Applying mulch to the gardens will act as a blanket. Refrain from clearing the garden beds from fallen leaves during Autumn, it’s natures mulch which will protect plants and nourish the soil.
We welcome light winds to keep the frost from settling but cold wind can be very harmful. If possible, shift pots to a sheltered spot out of the wind.
Remember healthy plants cope better with what winter throws at them. Healthy plants are also more disease resistant, therefore, it’s worth the effort to give your garden the care it requires. Do not, however, be tempted to bring out the fertiliser for a winter boost. Unlike us, humans who take copious amounts of Echinacea or Vitamin C in winter, count your plants out. Keep fertiliser well away until soil temperatures start to rise. Fertiliser will encourage new growth which will get zapped by the first sign of frost.
Take note of the plants in your gardens that suffer in winter and consider shifting to a sheltered spot where practical. I don’t always approve of shifting plants but it’s a worthwhile exercise if there is a cosier spot for it.
Don’t despair, winter gardening isn’t all that gloomy. Enjoy the roaring fire, listening to the rain on the roof when you’re tucked up in bed and the footsteps of Jack Frost outside…