Winter weather is certainly a lot easier to take when the sun is shining. Since outdoor plants are dormant this time of year, the extremely short days of winter affect us humans more than the trees and shrubs.
It's amazing how far the winter sun reaches into the house because of its low angle in the sky. Houseplants that are used to low light condition may not appreciate the direct rays of sun shining on them this time of year. You may have to do some relocating if your plants seem unhappy. I sometimes have to move my low light houseplants into the shadows behind my larger, sun-loving houseplants this time of year.
The warmth of the winter sun can trick you into thinking the sunny, south side of your house is a good location for winter sensitive plants. But take a look at the maximum and minimum temperatures of last week. Even though the daytime temperatures rose into the 20's, the night temperatures dropped near zero.
Sunny exposure can warm up plants by day only to let them plunge into cold temperatures as soon as the sun sets. Temperature fluctuations are hard on plants. It is best to locate the more tender plants on the north and northeast sides of your house to protect them from that winter sun and subsequent temperature extremes.
At Cornell University, a saucer magnolia was planted on the north side of a large building. This was not only for the winter extremes, but also because the cooler location delayed bud break in spring. The hope was that the delayed spring growth might help the plant delay flowering until after most chances of frost were past so the tender flower petals might escape damage.
Amy Ivy is executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. CCE offices may be reached in Clinton County at 561-7450 and Essex County at 962-4810. More information may be found on-line at ecgardening.cce.cornell.edu or by sending an e-mail to a Master Gardener volunteer at askMG@cornell.edu.