As the heat and humidity slip away and the leaves begin to turn and drop, we have to say goodnight to a lot of our favorite beauties: petunias, snapdragons, and other perennial plants. For those plants we can’t bring inside during the colder months, we know we’ll see them again, and in the meantime, we can bask in a different kind of beauty: cold-weather plants. There are plenty of options and ways to keep your landscaping bright and sharp, even when it’s dull and frigid outside.
We love our plants. It’s not only their wonderfully unique looks and smells, but also it’s the fact we spend so much time with them; they become a part of our home, a part of our daily lives. Plants are more than simple landscape pieces meant to be aesthetically pleasing, they are alive and are a direct reflection of the care they receive. We prune and pluck and fertilize and find ourselves connecting to nature because it’s exciting to learn about how they work: how much sun and shade they need; how often to water them, and when they go dormant for the winter or disappear forever.
It is at this point in time—the coming of winter—that we have to make a big decision: which plants to bring inside and which to let go dormant only to rise again in the Spring? Regardless of what you decide, your exterior beds will be bare. That is unless you plant winter-tolerant flowers and flowering shrubs that can dress up the yard until Spring rolls around again.
Plants that Survive Winter
Time to reassess your plot: would spruce or cedar look better where some of your perennials are? Some cedars, like the Weeping Atlas Blue Cedar, look stunning against grey skies and/or snowy ground with their metallic blue and green shades. (Note that if you do plant a Weeping Atlas, be sure to get a dwarf if it is close to the house, as a normal-sized one will grow quite large.)
You can also plant winter flowers in the same spots where your annuals are in order to have color year-round. Surprisingly, there are plenty of flowers that can bring life and color even in the midst of a cold, cold winter. Here are a few of our favorites:
• Pansies and Violas: These two thrive in places where it doesn’t get really cold (below freezing for weeks on end), but they can also survive in snow and ice. And, even though they are considered annuals (have to be replanted every year), pansies and violas love to surprise us and come back year after year.
• Snowdrops (Galanthus): If planted in the fall, snowdrops tend to bloom in very early spring. These little white flowers are perfect accents for rock beds or on the front of borders throughout the yard.
• Winter Jasmine: This plant is actually a medium-sized shrub. Though its flowers are not fragrant, the bright yellow petals provide a stark contrast against a winter sky.
• Hellebores (Lenten roses): These flowers bloom around Lent—hence the name—and produce a delicate-looking pink flower. Despite hellebores’ dainty figure, they are incredibly tough.
• Pieris: Pieris plants are actually shrubs with white little bells that hang from the fine stems. This striking plant with its thousands of little white bell-like flowers blooms in mid and late winter.
• Winter Aconite: These buttercup yellow flowers pop up out of frost or snow and look best when grouped in large masses. These are another example of a delicate-looking beauty that is, in reality, quite durable.
We could honestly continue with our list for page after page, as the options for winter flowers are seemingly endless: there’s Winterberry with its bright orange berries; Cyclamen is usually considered a houseplant, but it does well outdoors in the winter; Witch Hazel can provide wispy yellowish flowers to an otherwise dreary backdrop.
And there’s more! –English Primrose, Camellia, Glory of the Snow, Pussy Willow, Leucojum, and Mahonia, are all wonderful options for winter-weather flowers.
Prepping Your Plants for Cold Weather
Even though winters down here in the South are not quite as severe as what our neighbors up North experience, we do still get weather that is cold enough to damage our plants, even our winter ones. With the chance of freezing weather approaching, proper planning and care will keep your plants thriving.
Once you are set for winter, meaning you have your potted plants indoors where they can be kept warm and alive, it’s time to make sure those winter beauties are safe and healthy. Begin by checking your personal inventory of plant covers and frost blankets, and if you do not have these it’s a good idea to purchase a few. They can be found online, at Lowe’s or Home Depot, etc. and they are always good to keep around.
Even those plants slated to survive and even thrive in winter will need to be covered from time to time. Get to know your plants, if you don’t know them well already, by reading up on them: can they handle extremely cold weather? When should they be covered? Knowing how to keep your plants healthy will produce the brightest, most long-lasting colors!
Here are a few key tips:
1. Do not fertilize cold-sensitive plants in fall or winter. This is because fertilizers promote new growth, which if begins in the winter will most likely not survive, as baby growth is sensitive and brittle.
2. Recently pruned plants are more susceptible to damage in the winter months than those plants that have not been clipped, so it’s a good idea to wait on pruning until spring for those plants you plan to keep outdoors in the colder months.
3. Since winter temps in the South are so unpredictable, be sure to keep a close eye on the daily, weekly weather. If you happen to see that a hard freeze is coming, cover your plants, all of them if you can. When you do, make sure the covers are completely touching the soil. This traps the heat coming from the ground and disperses it to your plants. If you feel this is not going to be enough heat, you can always add an electric light bulb beneath the cover; you can also wrap the trunk of each plant with several layers of cloth or newspaper—this is also a good thing to do for those larger plants you can’t cover.
No matter how “winter-proof” you believe your plants to be, it’s best to cover them anytime an intense cold front moves in. Remember, the healthier the plant, the prettier it will be.
Should you water your exterior plants during winter? Yes, but only when experiencing drought. Certain winter months come without rain, and during this time it’s a good idea to water young trees, shrubs, flowers, even your lawn. We suggest, if you do not have a built-in sprinkler system, installing soaking hoses throughout your beds and around other plants you wish to water. This way you can simply turn the hose on and let the water soak into the ground.
FREEZE WARNING: applying water to your exterior plants in the winter is okay to do only when the temperature is above freezing. Even if you water the plants then the temperature drops below freezing right after, the plants will be fine—it’s the time of the application that matters most.
When you water those plants, shrubs, grass, and the like, soak the soil through anywhere from 5 to 10 inches. (If you have more mature trees, soak them twice as deep.)
So, how often should you water those plants, if there is a bit of a drought? This somewhat depends on the types of plants, as well as, the weather conditions, but watering every two or three weeks tends to work best. If you are ever unsure as to how much water you have given a plant, simply use the screwdriver method: simply take an 8-inch screwdriver (or a stick) and try and push it 6 to 8 inches into the ground. If you have to apply a lot of pressure to push the screwdriver down, or if it won’t go down at all, it’s a good sign you need to add more water.
Give The Landscape Guys a call to help you and your lawn make the cold weather transition!