Damaging Assessment – The Waiting Game
By Paul James
I know many of you are worried about the likelihood that some of your plants were damaged or destroyed by recent brutally cold temperatures. I am too. After all, anything you’ve planted in the past 25 or 30 years has never experienced temps of -15 degrees (or more). And unfortunately, it’s going to be some time before we know the answers. Weeks perhaps. Here’s why.
For starters, there’s the issue of hardiness. Depending on exactly where you live in Green Country, you’re in either USDA Hardiness Zone 6b, where the average annual minimum temperature is -5 to zero degrees, or 7a, where the average is zero to 5 degrees. Either way, most areas experienced temps much, much colder than that.
That means that if a plant is rated at Hardiness Zone 6 or 7, it’s anyone’s guess at this point whether that plant will survive. Only time will tell. However, keep in mind that much of the information regarding a plant’s hardiness is anecdotal rather than scientific, so it’s certainly possible that some plants rated for Zone 6 will make it. I’m less optimistic about plants rated for Zone 7. Hundreds of plants common to this area (conifers in particular) are hardy to at least -20, so they may be fine.
Now let’s talk about soil temperatures, and on this subject I have better news.
Both 4” and 10” soil temps throughout Green Country have, on average, been above freezing — barely — for the past 10 days. And they’ve actually warmed up a degree or two this week thanks to the snow, which insulates the soil. That’s a critical measurement, because as I mentioned last week, if water freezes outside of a plant’s cells, that’s okay. But if water within cells freezes, a plant will die. Another plus — soil moisture has been sufficient, which keeps soils warmer and prevents plant roots from desiccating.
Freeze damage is often immediately visible — black or brown leaves, some of which turn to mush. But that’s not always the case, especially among deciduous plants that don’t have any leaves at the moment. Some plants may look okay, but come spring they may not push new growth. And I’m afraid we’re going to see that on a scale we haven’t seen in years. I hope I’m wrong.
Happy gardening, ya’ll.
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