Winter care for plants is as simple as not disturbing them with any activities like pruning or over-watering, while they are happily hibernating.Read more to learn about this.
Thus, putting your plants to bed for the winter is mostly a matter of cleaning and removing their undesirable diseased or dead parts and covering them up with a blanket of mulch. This is because as the temperature cools down, so does the growth of a plant, which means that their demands like watering and fertilizing also reduces.
Different plants show different kinds of adaptation to cold temperatures. Some broad-leaved plants lose their leaves to conserve the limited energy that they receive from the sun. Some evergreen plants like conifers have developed needle-like leaves with slanting canopy which allows the snow to easily slide through and not collect over the plant. Whereas, some other plants like Poinsettia goes into flowering mode during the winter season, having actively developed its foliage during the warmer periods of the year.
THINGS TO DO DURING WINTERS:
1. Cleaning plants
Cleaning implies removing the dead and infected parts of plants such as leaves, stems and flowers. If not removed, these unwanted parts may harbour fungus or insect eggs during winters which may infect rest of the plant too. While removing rotten, diseased or dead parts of a plant, use clean disinfected pruning shears to avoid the spread of diseases from one plant to another.
Remove unwanted weeds growing around your plants which may suck up the nutrients from the soil. Till the top-soil to remove the weeds from its root, or else it will grow back again. It is a good idea to water the top-soil before tilling to make it softer, making it easier to pull out the undesirable weeds. Take care to not just throw away the weeds nearby your plants as their seeds may spread and grow back in the spring. Weeds can be utilised for the purpose of composting.
Read more about the weeding in “Weed control methods”.
After removing weeds from the soil, cover it up with some shredded organic mulch such as shredded leaves and bark. Make use of the naturally fallen dry leaves as mulch, shed by deciduous trees and shrubs, which will readily decompose. Mulching keeps the top-soil warmer during winters, thus protecting the roots of plants from frost-damage. However, don’t spread the mulch too close to the stem as it may cause the stem to rot.
Flowering bulbs such as Dahlia, that have died to the ground during winters, can also be protected with a layer of mulch over them. However, take care that the mulch is light and porous which will allow the bulbs to germinate and rise above the soil with the arrival of the spring.
Read more about the benefits of mulching in “Mulching much?”
4. Relocating container plants
Some tender plants like caladium, which are sensitive to cold, may be brought indoors during the winters, where it is more warm and humid than the weather outdoors. Some deciduous plants can also be moved to shade with the onset of winters, where they will lose lesser leaves due to milder exposure to cold conditions. Certain tropical plants such as ferns need higher humidity to grow and thrive, therefore shift them indoors after autumn season as winter air is drier and less humid for such plants.
If you’re living in an area which receives heavy rainfall during winters, take care to relocate your container plants into shade, since over-watering during winters may cause root-rot which may lead to the death of your beloved plants. If that is not possible, then regularly check the drainage of the planters to avoid letting the roots stand in water. Mulching reduces the impact of heavy rainfall on top-soil and allows the water to drain better, by improving the porosity of soil.
5. Starting seeds indoors
Winter is the perfect time for starting seeds indoors for several annual herbs and flowers. This is because the conditions indoors is suitable for them to easily germinate, as it is warmer and more humid than outdoors. Waiting until spring to sow the seeds directly outdoors may leave lesser time for your plants to mature and develop flowers and fruits until the onset of next winter, which may reduce the produce you can harvest from your plants.
Read more about the benefits and method of starting seeds indoors in “Growing seeds indoors”.
6. Dividing bulbs
Flowering bulbs such as Dahlias and Gladioli are cold-sensitive and die to the ground during winters. If you wish to divide your bulbs, then winters is the best time to do so. Simply dig out the bulb from the soil, taking care to not damage the bulb by carefully digging deep enough. Then remove the small offset bulbs growing around the main bulb, using a sharp knife.
Dividing bulbs every 2 to 3 years is necessary to avoid overcrowding of plants growing from the offset bulbs, as it may reduce flowering and adversely affect the health of plants. New bulbs along with the old ones can be planted with the coming of the spring with adequate spacing.
THINGS TO AVOID DURING WINTERS:
Avoid pruning your plants heavily during winters since they may not develop new growth during cooler months. Since plants store their food in their leaves and stems, which they utilise for surviving through colder months, they may not recover from excessive pruning and may even die. You can however remove old or infected parts from your plants, without disturbing rest of the plant too much.
Activities like repotting and root-pruning must be strictly postponed until the beginning of spring, when the new growth starts to kick-off in your plants. This is because transplanting disturbs and damages the roots of the plants, which cannot be regrown and recovered during winters, thus severely damaging the health of your plants.
There is no need to fertilize you plants during leaner season of their growth. Since their metabolism reduces during winters, they don’t require too much nutrients to survive. Over-fertilizing your plants can actually lead to problems such as yellowing and wilting of leaves, brown tips and margins on leaves, defoliation, reduced flowering, and even death.
Plants need water when they’re actively growing during warmer periods, since water helps the roots absorb nutrients from the soil. Therefore, let the soil dry out completely and one can even wait for a few days, before watering the plants again. As it is, cooler months means lower evaporation rate of soil-moisture, hence the frequency of watering must automatically be reduced.
So don’t bother your plants with too much attention during winters, as they like to sleep and rest too.