by Charlene Burgi
December was always a very busy time in our nursery in Marin. Ball and burlap trees were shipped in from Oregon and required potting up in biodegradable containers for easy planting in the future. Bare root roses would also arrive, in need of pruning to remove broken or damaged roots and eliminate weak, damaged or broken canes. We also prepared for the impending bare root trees and shrubs that found their way into the nursery in January. Unlike methods used today in which bare root plants are bagged, each plant was healed into sawdust shavings to protect the roots and keep them moist. Every plant was also carefully examined and pruned.
Pruning was not limited to the bare root plants but also required by the fruit-bearing container plants. Shears were sharpened and blades were sanitized with a mild bleach solution after each cut. Dormant sprays were administered before the job was complete.
To protect the plants—especially frost-tender ones—we moved them under cover and sprayed them with a product called "Cloud Cover." This prevented the plants from transpiring, thus holding the moisture within the plant. It was common to find hoses frozen with ice, making it difficult to water the potted plants located under the shelter of roofs. Winter cold seems to dehydrate plants. Though we never relished the thought of holding onto a wet hose when the temperatures neared freezing, this task was sometimes necessary to keep plants alive.
| Container pansies in need of a drink
It's not only nursery owners who face outdoor winter chores; if you have a garden or container plants, they may need some attention this time of year. This thought came to mind this morning as I walked out onto the back deck. The temperature read 10 degrees here in Lassen County at 7 a.m. My concern tends to focus on the outdoor animals during these frigid temperatures, but it was the pansies on the covered deck outside the door that captured my attention. They lay shriveled atop the frozen soil of their container. Pansies are able to withstand cold weather, but was it just too cold? After closer inspection, I realized it wasn't the chill endured during the night that caused them to wilt. Sheltered from the storms, what these pansies really needed was water!
Cold temperatures are not limited to those of us in the northern reaches of the state. While visiting family this past weekend in Petaluma, I noticed the temperature plummet below 32 degrees some mornings. They were concerned about the newly planted succulents in their backyard. Could they withstand the cold? If this is your concern, consider spraying your plants with "Cloud Cover" or another anti-transpirant spray, moving potted plants under a covering, or tenting with a sheet. If tenting is required, be certain to keep the material away from the foliage or the leaves may still burn where contact is made.
Remember that we, too, require hydration in the cold weather. For me, there is nothing better than a cup of hot water with lemon at the end of a day spent outdoors in winter.