Winter should not hurt plants, but too much moisture will

Backyard Q&A

March 02, 2003|By Dennis Bishop | Dennis Bishop,Special to the Sun

I am concerned about the effects of this winter's cold temperatures on my landscape plants. Will it damage them, and what can I do to prevent it?

I am not expecting that there will be any significant damage to plants from cold temperatures. We have had many cold days, but no extremely cold days. Baltimore is in the U.S. Agriculture Department's plant hardiness zone 7a, where the typical annual lowest temperature is between 0 and 5 degrees F. Because temperatures have only been in that range, your plants should suffer little or no cold damage.

My greatest concern for plants is that they will suffer from excessive water. This water is coming from the large amounts of rain and snow in the last few months. When heavy, poorly drained soil is cool and full of water, plants can easily suffocate. In these conditions, the oxygen levels in soils are too low for plants to survive. If this were a problem for you, there is little to do now. The only solution is to improve the soil drainage by adding organic matter. You should do that in spring or fall when the soil is relatively dry.

I would like to take cuttings of my forsythia shrub and transplant them to form a new hedge. Can I do that now, or should I wait until the fall?

Forsythia is one of the easiest landscape plants to grow from cuttings. I would suggest that you wait awhile and take cuttings of new growth. The cuttings can be taken from late spring until early Sep-tember.

I have seen hedges that were grown by directly transplanting cuttings into the garden. However, you will have better success if you treat the cuttings with a root stimulator, and start them in small containers filled with a soil-less mix.

The new plants can then be transplanted into the landscape after the roots are established. This should take about 6 to 8 weeks. A combination of 50 percent peat moss and 50 percent perlite should make a nice medium for the cuttings to grow in. If you keep the soil moist during rooting, you should be very successful.

Checklist

1. Some catalogs contain incorrect and misleading information on the physical characteristics and cultural requirements of garden plants. Be sure to check reliable sources before ordering new plants.

2. It is time to cut down last year's growth on ornamental grasses. The grasses can be trimmed to within a few inches of the ground. This will make room for new growth.

3. Turn outdoor compost piles as soon as the weather begins to warm. Remove woody stems and twigs that take a long time to compost.

Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator for the Baltimore office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site www.hgic. umd.edu.

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