Answers to freezing questions

Published 10:01 pm Saturday, January 5, 2008

Welcome to the first Sunday of 2008! I hope your 2007 was wonderful and only gets better for the next 12 months. With the recent freeze, many plants may be looking as if they have seen their better days. With more freezes likely over the next few months, hopefully some of these suggestions will help maintain your lawn and plants now so they will be healthy until spring’s arrival.

What is the best way to protect plants from a freeze?

This is a good question but one that requires much more space than this column to answer. Here are some things to consider: plant and site selection, prior plant nutrition, wind breaks, covering and heating and pre-freeze preparations to name a few. The best way to prevent cold injury to plants is to choose plants that tolerate the cold temperatures. Natchez is in the USDA Cold Hardiness Zone 8a. This means that plants need to be capable of withstanding temperatures from 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Usually a quick background check on the plant will reveal its cold hardiness temperatures. Mulching is a good practice, it protects the roots of plants and helps reduce heat loss, and minimizing temperature fluctuations, thus allows them to survive the cold and come back in the spring.

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Container plants should receive special consideration; their roots are more exposed because they are above ground. Roots that are damaged by cold temperatures may not show immediate signs of damage, but these plants will show signs of stress when temperatures increase. Push together container plants that are left outside and mulch or cover them to decrease heat loss from the sides of the containers. Wrap the base of the containers in plastic or burlap to reduce heat loss.

However, keeping plants healthy year round may be your best advantage; healthy plants are more resistant to cold injury than plants that are weakened by disease, by insect damage or by improper care.

What is the best way to control winter weeds?

This is a call I get quite often this time of year once our warm season lawns go dormant and the only green we see is the spotty appearance of winter weeds popping up throughout the dormant brown colored turf canopy. Most of these weeds are what we term as “winter annuals.” Weeds that germinate from seed in the fall and grow throughout the winter and by spring are quite large producing flowers and seed heads before they die leaving a new supply of seed for the next fall. Most typical are annual bluegrass, chickweeds, henbit and lawn burweed (sticker weed). Your lawn may also be infested with perennial winter weeds such as wild garlic, dandelions, clover, plantains, etc. which come back each fall from underground plant parts such as bulbs, corms or rhizomes. Regardless of the winter weeds your lawn may contain they are much easier to control now while they are small and less noticeable. Mowing is an option but I doubt many of you intend to mow during the winter months so herbicides are your best option.

There are several good post-emergence type herbicides available to control these winter weeds without any injury to your dormant lawn. There are a few perennial winter weeds that you may want to control now so broadleaf post-emerge herbicides such as 2,4-D and others may be used effectively. For further information on specific herbicides look for the Extension publication number 1532 “Weed Control Guidelines for Mississippi” on the Web site.

David Carter is the director of the Adams County Extension Service. He can be reached at 601-445-8201.