Shivering Stems: What to Do With Outdoor Flowers When it Snows

January 19, 2015 / Blooms Today

Flowers are one of the most beautiful parts of nature, but most are in imminent danger when it snows. Most amateur gardeners aren’t sure how to protect flowers once cold weather hits.  Making this issue more complicated, snow and ice are usually unpredictable. Certain areas of the U.S. are more prone than others, but temperatures fluctuate daily, meaning that thriving flowers could be killed in a matter of days or hours. Today, we’ll discuss some proven methods to protect your blooms in cold weather.


Choose Hardy Flowers

One of the best ways to protect flowers is being proactive. Choose flowers that bloom in mid- to late fall and are known to last through tough winters. These are more likely to survive if left outside with extra layers of protection such as durable coverings. Good choices include boxwood, flowering quince, and of course snowdrops. The latter actually blooms best in winter. For a touch of Christmas all winter long, you can also try winterberry, Christmas roses, camellia, and witch hazel. Protect While They’re Closed Most plants can survive limited exposure to cold weather. Bulbs like tulips are particularly resilient; gardeners have reported them blossoming in snow a foot deep. However, sustained exposure to cold or sub-freezing temperatures will severely damage or kill the most resilient plants. Check your weather forecast often. If flowers have already begun peeking from the ground, gently remove them and bring them inside while they are still young. Bring bulbs inside while they are still closed. Leaving open bulbs outdoors increases their chances of damage.

Tuck Them In

Flowers need coverings to stay warm in winter, just like humans. Cover your flowers with a sheet or tarp. Add plant stakes to protect the blooms from wind and keep the roots firmly in the ground. If temperatures will be warm the next day, you can uncover flowers early in the morning and re-cover them each night until the coldest periods pass.

Leave It to Mother

Mother Nature, that is. Though this sounds counterintuitive, a light, dry snow can actually protect plants and get the ground ready for strong, healthy blooms later. It’s important to know whether your geographic area is prone to dry or wet snows. This depends on your snow ratio, or how much water you get per inch of snow. If you live in an area with a 10:1 snow ratio, ten inches of snow will produce one inch of water. With dry snow, it takes much more snow to produce water, which ultimately protects plants. Dry snow is fluffier and easier to remove than the wet stuff, so your plants won’t stay as cold. However, don’t be fooled if you hear terms like “weak system.” Two or three inches of snow can feel like several feet to your plants, especially if it melts into frigid liquid. A forecast of 2-3 inches of snow with temperatures in the 30s or below often means the snow will be heavier and wetter than usual. If wet snow is forecasted, cover plants with sheets or burlap or bring them indoors.

Mind Your Mulch

Your plants’ survival rate often depends on the kind of soil they need. If your blooms thrive in poorly drained soil, they’ll be susceptible to wet rot once the snows and rains set in. Protect them with layers of mulch – 2-4 inches is optimal. Shredded leaves and ground bark are ideal materials. You can also use Christmas tree boughs for the bonus of a fragrant mulch. Make sure the ground is well-watered before winter arrives, and tuck your most delicate plants into special shelters. These can be yards of burlap, overturned pots, shredded leaves, or a custom-built shelter if you’re feeling especially creative. Also, do not place delicate plants front and center in the garden. Place them at the bottom of a slope where the snow and ice will take longer to reach them. A hint: if you can see them from your house, they’re too exposed.

Watch the Babies

Young plants are particularly vulnerable to the cold even if they eventually grow into a hardy species. In the first year or so after being planted or moved from pots to the garden, plants are most likely to be injured or die. With that in mind, heavily water young plants well in advance and cover or shelter your more delicate blossoms. Use an anti-transpirant spray for extra protection.

Photo Credit: Photographer Missie offered the photograph of Fine Flakes under a Creative Commons License on Flickr

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