As we move nearer to closing the garden and planting bulbs, we should also be thinking in terms of winter damage.
We’re fortunate in that we don’t live in a particularly harsh zone, which is not to say that we’re home free, but we’re a long way from northern Maine. That said, let’s think about winter protection.
The damage to plants that occurs in winter has its origins usually in one of two sources: either severe cold or loss of moisture. If the cold is severe enough, the plant material will actually freeze, which means that cell tissue will break down. Twigs, branches, stems or roots can be damaged to the point that the plant will die.
If your perennials have been cut back and heavily mulched, they’re probably safe. Consider wind breaks or burlap wraps if you have shrubs in harm’s way. If the threat of cold is transient, if frost threatens in a given evening while your window boxes are still going great guns and there will probably be a few more weeks of nice weather, don’t hesitate to just cover them up with a light blanket.
Baby blankets are best or whatever you have of similar weight, since you don’t want to use anything heavy enough to break stems.
The second source of most winter damage is loss of moisture. This condition is most frequently caused by the combination of low humidity, bright winter sunshine and relentless winter winds. These factors together have a powerful drying effect and it is the evaporation of moisture from twigs, branches, canes and, in the case of evergreens, leaves, that causes damage.
This evaporation continues at a slow rate during the winter. In order to supply moisture the roots must continue to absorb water, otherwise branches or canes will shrivel. If the condition is severe enough, large sections of the plant or the plant itself will die. The best antidote for this is heavy fall watering, if rainfall has been light; the wetter the fall, the better the chances for the plant to winter successfully.
Before we turn to house plants — and I will spend some time in the next column on how to help plants from outside get used to being inside — I have to tell you about a stupid thing I did but am now enjoying. Several days ago, I took some carrots out of the refrigerator to add to vegetable soup.
I had put them aside because they were what my mother would have called “horse carrots,” those big thick ones that don’t look good on a plate. As I cut off the tops, I noticed they were sprouting and third-grade memories returned with a rush. I went online and I was right — you can grow plants from carrot tops!
The instruction was to cut off an inch of the carrot and place its bottom in water on a bed of gravel (from the driveway). Unfortunately, I had already cut the tops off at a little more than a half inch but I thought I’d go ahead anyway. I felt a little silly but also thought how nice and ferny carrot tops look when they are growing. Having just spent too much money on orchids and wanting a fern for the backdrop of my winter plant table, I thought how great it would be if this worked.
It’s incredible. In three days they’ve grown two inches! And the tiny little sprouts are adorable. There’s a tricky part ahead, transferring the tops with water roots into soil but they seem so happy, I’m optimistic. I’ve taken their picture for you and I’ll keep you posted.