Anywhere I go these days the first topic of conversation is the weather. While thats usually true any time, the topic is of particular interest in recent years because of all the fluctuations. And the question Im most frequently asked is - what will this do to our plants? Ive learned to avoid making predictions, especially when it comes to nature. Ideally, plants need to gradually harden off and get ready for winter and then stay in that dormant state until spring. With temperatures all over the place the last few winters, its amazing our plants are surviving as well as they are. But somehow most seem to be coping pretty well. Wait and See
Different plants respond differently to cold damage so theres no one statement that applies to all plants other than my personal favorites, it all depends and we just have to wait and see. Some plants may come through just fine while others may suffer a little or a lot. Flower buds are more sensitive than leaf buds so in a moderately bad situation you may lose your spring flower show but the plant may survive just fine to flower another year. Fruit growers are especially concerned about flower bud damage since without flowers, you cant have fruit. Most shrubs are very resilient. Even if some or parts of their branches are killed their roots survive and produce new shoots next spring to replace those lost. Each year we just have to wait and see what kind of damage occurs and how our plants respond to it. Perennials
During a long warm spell in winter perennial flowers may or may not be affected, theres really no good way to predict. With perennials its their crowns you worry about. The top growth can die back but if the crowns freeze and thaw, damage could occur. A lot of people are asking if they should cover their perennial gardens when a warm spell occurs, in an attempt to protect those crowns. This is a little tricky. Too much cover isnt good and the timing is difficult. Most of the time I dont recommend much winter cover over perennial gardens because its so hard to decide when to remove it in spring and when to lay it down in fall. If you had put a thick layer of winter mulch over your perennials last November, for example, chances are good those crowns could be smothered by all that cover during any warm spells that followed. I find its often best to just leave things alone and let the plants figure it out. Sometimes our well intentioned attempts to help can make it worse. And since our weather is so unpredictable these days, what might be helpful today may not be helpful for the conditions that may occur next week. For those gardeners who really feel a need to take action, laying evergreen branches in a single, light layer over the perennials wouldnt hurt, just dont completely cover the crowns. Ideal Conditions
As pleasant as mild temperatures are in winter for warm blooded animals like us, the best weather to hope for right now is a gradual cooling to below freezing temperatures followed by a few inches of snow to serve as a blanket that will stay through February. Dream on!