A GROWING CONCERN: Plants are dormant, but not gardeners

SURE, A WEEK after I wrote about mild weather, Frosty the Snowman blows into town.

Still, coming from the tundra of Wisconsin as I do, I have to chuckle as the papers declare an arctic chill with temperatures in the low 20’s — and that’s above zero.

You see, most plants laugh off temperatures above 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Zero is the real benchmark.

In fact many of your favorite plants need freezes to set buds, induce dormancy and set lovely fall color.

However, we Peninsula gardeners welcome January cold snaps because they chill out our perennials and trees.

This time of year, we don’t want to see early emergence of bulbs or flower buds on our spring blooming plants.

In recent years, we have seen effects of early spring-like weather in January and February.

It’s always followed by late February frosts and freezes, which damage flower buds, decrease production on fruit trees, kill open flowers and burn tender new leaves.

So, bring on more of the snow and cold this month in order to slow down our existing plants and provide ideal planting conditions.

That’s right. Cool and cold temperatures (20s to the 40s) are ideal for planting, dividing and transplanting.

We need to be doing this over the next six to eight weeks.

Now and for the next two months, you should be planting and moving every possible plant that needs to be rearranged — provided they are not frost-sensitive annuals.

The reasons are numerous.

First the rains, or should I say monsoons, are in full swing and should be for several months to come. This means no intensive watering schedule for you.

These newly planted specimens will be fully and completely “watered in” for months.

The soil will slowly, steadily fill in and compress around the roots and fresh planting ball.

The temperature is cool or cold, so now your plants won’t suffer from the transplant shock that results from dry conditions, like on long, warm, sunny days.

They are mostly dormant and, in their plant way, are completely ignorant of their situation.

Plants purchased and planted now won’t realize they have been uprooted from their cushy nursery or greenhouse and placed in your rock or clay infested soil.

Then, given a couple of months in their new location, they will awaken in the spring already adhered to the ground, new roots bursting forth and believing they have been in there most of their lives.

In other words, you will get a plant fairly established in its new surroundings in just a few months instead of a year or more.

Planting now, next week, this month is the key, while winter dormancy is at its peak and the sun is very low.

This is also a time to buy plants in sizes not available later, in varieties that are only in stock now or in bundles and pricing that are bargains.

Why? Because of bare-root stock.

Bare root items are one of my most cherished material purchases.

Bare-root stocks’ advantages derive from the combination of cold, dark, dormant seasonal weather and the absence of soil, pots, containers and labor.

Because the weather is cold and dark, plants are dormant.

Their lack of leaves or growing root systems creates a lack of desire to produce either for quite a while.

That means many more can be shipped close together at a much reduced cost.

They are loaded more cheaply, unloaded efficiently, are far easier to care for and displayed cost-effectively in less space.

They load easier, need less of a digging hole and can be bought for pennies on the dollar.

Ideal items to purchase are bundles of strawberries in bare-root packs of 12 or 25.

Blueberry bundles, 25 for the cost of three or four 6-inch pots.

Fruit trees, shade trees, ornamental bushes and shrubs are twice as big for half the cost.

I like ground cover bare-root bundles because a ground cover is exactly that, so you really need a couple hundred to start with.

As we move into the planting season, remember that a key factor in gardening is matching the plant grade size or container to the results and desires needed.

We will talk in the future about grade sizes — but for now, buy bare-root plants.

And start transplanting all those items that are too big or crowded because now is the time.

The cold weather is perfect.

________

Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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