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Is Your Garden Ready for a Freeze?

November 13, 2009

The cold wind blowing and the churning furnace pouring out warm air woke me early this November morning. Rain is hammering out of the sky, blown in circles by heavy winds near the planet surface driving it noisily into window panes.

Frozen Branches

Frozen Branches

And, weather reporters are warning snow may follow the morning downpours. Although I doubt we’ll see snow in the city, these reports — coupled with the ice we’re seeing on early-morning windshields — reminds me to get a few last minute freeze-proofing chores done this morning.

Hopefully, these tips will help you get ready as well. Who knows? Now that I said I doubt it will snow, it probably will send down a few flurries around town just to prove me wrong.

Original Post from December 11, 2008:

The word around town is “possible snow” this December weekend. That doesn’t mean we’ll get snow, but with arctic air headed our way along with some clear skys, odds are we’re going to see our first big freeze of the season. Here in Western Washington, we’re fortunate to have fairly mild winters. Still, several days of 30-20F are ahead. So, are you ready?

Following are a few items to check before the cold hits that will help keep protect your precious outdoor spaces:

  • Blow Out Irrigation: If you haven’t blown out your irrigation systems, get out there and do it now. Water in lines can cause cracks and breaks. If you don’t know how, get on the horn and call an irrigation company to have them help.
  • Detach hoses & protect bibs: Remove hoses that may still be connected to outside hose bibs. Leaving them connected can lead to frozen or broken pipes. As well, insulate your hose bibs to protect them from freezing. Drain and store detatched hoses for winter.
  • Care for waterfeatures: Some waterfeatures are designed to run all year. Others should be turned off and drained for winter. Check yours before the freeze.
  • Protect outdoor pots: Not all containers are created alike. If yours aren’t freeze proof (and sometimes even if they are), you may lose them during freeze-thaw cycles in winter. Ideally, store them in a protected location where they won’t be susceptible to these cycles.
  • Clear Debris from Gutters and Downspouts: If you’ve ever had had your downspouts freeze when filled with twigs and leaves, you already know what a chore it can be to knock the ice out of them to clear debris and get snow and ice melts flowing again. Best to check those gutters before a heavy freeze hits.
  • Protected potted plants: If you have decorative containers filled with plants be sure to protect them before the freeze. Small pots are more susceptible to freezing, so be sure to insulate them from the outside before it freezes. Be sure all pots have been watered in and drained before the freeze comes. Frozen dry soil can be more damaging than frozen moist, drained soil. Just don’t try to water during the freeze. If you purchased plants late in the season that never made it into the ground, either insulate the base of the pots by wrapping them with insulation or mounding wood chips or mulch around the base. Or, dig a hole and bury the pot most of the way in the soil. The plant will be “heeled in” for winter this way. If you have a hoop house or greenhouse, consider storing plants in these, but keep an eye on them. They can still freeze up.
  • Protect garden plants: Plants in the ground, even hardy plants, can still take a hit in cold weather. Consider draping and wrapping burlap around the most tender ones to help insulate them from the cold. Just don’t keep them wrapped up all winter. Best to unwrap them when it isn’t freezing out! If you haven’t applied mulch this season, get out and do some mulching to protect roots. Just remember not to mound the mulch up around the woody top growth of your plants. If you haven’t finished raking, rejoice! The leaves will help insulate your plants’ roots.
  • Harvesting edibles: If you put in winter edibles like chard and lettuce, consider taking in a good harvest before the freeze. Although these (and other) edibles will likely survive a freeze, the more mature leaves may take a heavy hit. Better to grab and store them than lose them!
Snow Laden Bamboo Needs Brushing Off

Snow Laden Bamboo Needs Brushing Off

If it does end up snowing, remember that the snow can help insulate plants from the cold. However, if the snow is heavy and weighing down branches and stems, try to get out with a broom or your hands and gently brush away the weight. Too much of the white stuff can break fragile, frozen plants.

Also, if you like to use salt on your walkways to create safe entries to and from your home, go light on the salt. It doesn’t take much to melt the snow, and too much salty run-off into your garden beds can be detrimental to your plants. Personally, as a “safety-first” kinda gal, I chose to use a bit of safety salt during freezes, but by going light and working on building a healthy soil environment for my plants throughout the year, I rarely encounter salt damage in my garden.

Are you hoping for snow this week? Have you already had some in your garden? Let us know. Also, if you have questions or your own tips to help fellow gardeners during snow and freezing weather, please share!


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  2. jade says:

    You might try using sand instead of salt. Sand may not melt the snow or ice, but it will give traction on icy paths. Once the snow/ice is gone you can just sweep it away with no worries.

  3. rhaglund says:

    Jade, sand is definitely a good alternative. I have found that it tends to make more of a tripping hazard on stairways than salt. Have you found a way to make it work in these areas?

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