Brian Minter: Handling extreme weather patterns is becoming commonplace

Mother nature is both lovely and fierce. He is also a great teacher if we pay attention and pay attention.

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After the extremes of 2021, nothing can surprise us in terms of weather in the year ahead. Even our recent cold period has caused significant damage to our gardens… and there is still a few months to go.

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At this point, the question is to mitigate the damage already caused by the cold, while at the same time being better prepared for the next weather event. Depending on where you live, you can grow everything from semi-tropical palms to extremely hardy willows. Now, however, the changing climate, along with increasingly extreme weather patterns, is pushing the record’s cold and warm boundaries.

One important garden foundation that needs to be understood is the hardness zones of plants.

The cold and heat tolerance zones in North America were first defined many years ago by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with the help of Canada and Mexico to give a reasonable picture of the different cold and heat zones in all three countries. .

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Overall, the average hot and cold temperatures were very good in most places. However, this is not an exact science because it cannot explain how the microclimate of each region is affected by topography, weather patterns, and the effects of oceans, lakes, forests, hillsides, and mountains.

Although this map is for information only, it is a good indication of the ability of a plant to grow and survive well in a given region compared to the established zonal resistance of most plants.

Plants covered with ice have a hard time surviving the extreme cold.
Plants covered with ice have a hard time surviving the extreme cold. Photo: Minter Country Garden /PNG

The resilience of plants is also a subjective issue based on history and the plant’s native habitat. Temperature is only a measure. Soil type, average rainfall, wind conditions, exposure to the sun or shade all contribute to the plant not only surviving but also developing.

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Not all plants have been assigned a precise heat or cold tolerance zone; this is especially true for new introductions. Few countries in Europe use a zone because it is so difficult to fully manage weather tolerance. I used to jokingly ask European plant peoples if a particular plant survives in the Scottish mountains to understand the relative cold tolerance of a plant in Canada.

In general, if you know the zone of strength in which you live and have a fairly good idea of ​​the cold tolerance of a plant, you need to be fairly confident in choosing the plant. If you live in the eastern Fraser Valley, which is indeed an area in Zone 6, you can plant not only plants in Zone 6, but also plants in Zone 1-5. outflowing wind and may provide some protection, you may be able to grow Zone 7 plants. In addition, when a plant settles, it develops greater strength and is able to withstand colder temperatures than its zone would assume.

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Contrary to the recent cold record, we were lucky to have the first snow to fall, insulating and protecting many plants. However, I am concerned about many delicate plants such as palm, phormium, Musa basjoo bananas and many other semi-hardy or Zone 7 and 8 plants. Even with proper ground cover, windbreaks, and insulation, the cold duration of the intruder means some plants are lost. In many cases, we have to wait until the warm weather in the spring to really know what’s left. Sometimes when the frost comes out, the stems and roots become pasty and you will know for sure that the plant is gone.

Snow can insulate plants, but can damage them by breaking off branches.
Snow can insulate plants, but can damage them by breaking off branches. Photo: Minter Country Garden /PNG

Broad-leaved plants such as camellias, rhododendrons, fascia, and ceanothus, when exposed to strong winds, can burn the foliage and appear quite pale, but recover when new growth begins. It is important to note that camellias, and rhododendrons in particular, have a wide range of resistance.

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While most endure the colder winter, others, especially those from warmer climates, may not survive. For example, PJM, a small-leaved purple rhodo, tolerates Zone 4 conditions, while the large-leaved, two-colored Cherries ‘n’ Cream is actually a Zone 7 rhododendron. As a rule, smaller-leaved rhododendrons are more tolerant of the sun and cold, and conversely, larger-leaved varieties are less tolerant.

More and more modern roses, such as the Easy Elegance series, are grown at their own roots rather than budding. This gives them more strength. If its roses are buds and the free buds have not been mulched or protected, they may be lost. Rosewoods are particularly vulnerable because their buds are two to four feet high in the cold air. It is mandatory to cover the ground with bark cover or sawdust, or to wrap it with an insulating cover such as N-Sulphate before each winter cold.

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Container plants are also easily damaged by cold weather. When plants lose the protection of staying in the soil and are exposed to the cold in containers, they are much more susceptible to frost damage. Plants lose at least one zone of strength when placed in a pot. Containers should be removed from the cold wind and wrapped two to three times with an effective insulating material such as N-Sulate instead of burlap. Good drainage should be used in winter pots to prevent excessive moisture retention, which can cause ceramic or clay pots to crack when frozen.

Snow can be both a friend and an enemy. The weight of the snow can disintegrate hedges and break conifers such as bushy cryptomeres or spreading topariums. To avoid breaking broken stalks or plants, gently knock down the snow immediately after heavy snow, especially if there is wet snow.

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If your garden is exposed to the full force of the outgoing winter wind, it is essential to create windbreaks. Wind cooling factors can reduce the temperature well below conventional hardness zones. By setting up a screen made of simple Remay fabric or plastic snow fencing, you can save your plants and prevent wind-induced burns on your leaves or needles. Hedges also make amazing screens.

Mother nature is both lovely and fierce. He is also a great teacher if we pay attention and pay attention. For both experienced and novice gardeners, this recent extreme cold will teach us to be better prepared for the next one. Never forget the lessons of lost or damaged plants.

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