Monday, November 22, 2010

How to Protect Your Winter Garden

What is a Grow Zone? And which plants should I cover up?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture set the U.S. Growing Zones. It is a weather measurement that tells your average area winter low. If your grow zone is a low number (such as 5-7), then you live in an area that receives severe cold, ice, and snow during the wintertime. If your grow zone is a high number (such as 9 and up), then you live in an area that receives minimal freezing temperatures.

Nearly all areas in the United States receive some freezing temperatures. And, there are simple steps you can take to protect your garden plants. It can be as simple as throwing a sheet or plastic tarp over plants or building a simple and affordable
Hoop House.

Which Plants Should I Cover?
Know your plant zone. It is important to know how much cold your plants can tolerate. Look for the plant hardy zone listed when purchasing at the nursery or online. As a general rule, plants with small leaves (such as grasses and rush) are cold tolerant plants. Plants with large flat leaves are tropical or warm climate plants (such as banana plants and water lily). However, many varieties of water lily have large broad leaves and are hardy down to zone 4. Check your plant hardy zone to see if it matches your area climate zone. Remember, many cold climate plants will grow in warm climate areas, but warm climate plants will not survive outdoors in cold climate areas. When in doubt, cover it all!

What kind of plastic should I use?
Zones 9 and Hotter: If you live in mild climate zone 9 and up, your average winter cold temperature is about 30 F. 2 mil. thick plastic sheeting will work for you. It is just enough to keep the frost and freeze off of your plants. Zone 8 and Colder: If you live in zone cold climate zone 8 down to zone 4, then your average winter cold temperature is is 10 F down to -30 F. Special care is needed for your plants in these climate zones. Some plants may need to be wintered over indoors. Other plants will survive outdoors. 6 mil thick plastic sheeting for climates with subfreezing temperatures. In severe cold, insulating between 2 layers of plastic with 1" size bubble wrap is necessary. Building a small structure over your plants is better than simply draping the plastic sheeting over your plants. Articles 'Gardening in Alaska' and 'Gardening in Nebraska' will give you some helpful and affordable ideas about how you can keep your plants year-round.

Protecting Your Banana Plant
How do I protect my banana plant from winter cold?
Cold Climates: If you live in areas that receive winter snow, cut your banana plant down to a stump and cover with mulch and plastic. The roots can also be kept warm by stringing regular LED Christmas tree lights on the ground and under the tarp. For example: I know several grower who grow banana plants successfully in Columbus, Ohio Zone 6. If banana plants can grow in Ohio, then they should also grow in ski resort town South Lake Tahoe, California which is also Zone 6.
A key to keeping your outdoor plants alive is:

Red Banana
This is my potted red banana plant. Because I am in zone 9, all that is needed for plant care is to trim back the dead and damaged leaves and cover with 2 mil. thick clear plastic sheeting.

Trimming the Leaves:
When your banana plant leaves begin to turn brown, trim off the old leaves. Allow a few leaves to remain. If you end up having to trim your banana plant all the way down, it will grow back again in the springtime.

Don't Forget the Aloe Plant

Aloe Plant:
Last year I forgot to cover my aloe, and all of the tips fried in the cold freezing night. If I covered it with a bed sheet or plastic, the aloe would have been safe.

Frost bitten aloe...
Will recover, but will never look the same again. The brown dead tips have been trimmed off, but one year later the damage is still evident.

Water Canna
Water Canna is very hardy. Similar to banana plant care, this canna plant is ready to be trimmed back to a stump and then covered with mulch.