October in Maryland is a gorgeous month. Brisk morning air with broad sun throughout the day and cooler, sooner nightfall. In my humble opinion, there is no better place to experience the true transitions of the seasons than in the Mid Atlantic. I have lived and gardened in eight zones domestically, and abroad, and this is the place for me. I relish in the predictable inconsistencies.
It’s a natural condition, both human and plant, to ease from the cold winter into a warm spring and then a sizzling summer to meet the mellow embrace of fall. There are actual physiological changes that occur in the transitions as well such as your blood thinning and thickening to meet the body’s adjustment to heat, or plants foliating to absorb the maximum amount sun and defoliating for the shorter days. When the rhythm is perfect, we adapt well, when it is sudden we, as well as our plants, can use a little help.
The National Weather Service provides advisories and warnings for frost and freezes with hours of the anticipated event in our area.
These warnings prompt us to turn up the heat in the house, grab a jacket before heading out the door, turn on the crockpot for dinner, but what should it be telling us about our plants? And, by the way, how quickly will our plants react to a single degree? I’m sure that you know already, the answer to both of those questions lies in the type of plant and the environment that it’s in.
Trees, Shrubs and Perennials
Established plantings in these plant categories should do just fine. Part of the joy of investing in these gifts we give our land is that they can hold their own. You should have already seen signs of senescence, the natural aging of foliage that reveals their fall color, such as a maple, or the dropping of foliage in herbaceous perennials so that they can focus energy on root survival. These gradual processes are triggered by light, air and soil temperature. Any one of these variables that are out of step can demand the plant to adapt quickly with sometimes negative results. Selecting plants with high resiliency and using best gardening practices increases your chances of success.
Plants that are going to take a potential hit include those that are:
- Very newly and poorly planted;
- On the cusp of our zone;
- Compromised or being treated/recovering from disease or pests; or
- Containerized plants
There are solutions for all of these issues and our plant specialists are here to help you with your specifics. In broad strokes though, what you are protecting from during a quick frost or freeze this time of year is the brains of the operation – the root matter.
The first rule of thumb is WATER. Water your plants before the freeze. Keep an eye on the Weather Advisories and then water when warned. Water is an insulator. I don’t mean spray water on the foliage; I mean a good, generous root watering at the base/drip line of each individual plant. When plant cells are plump with water they will be more resilient against cold damage. And bonus, the moist soil will stay warmer than dry soil.