In the weeks before and after Thanksgiving, we’re supposed to feel guilty about lounging about on the porch in short sleeves and sandals, sipping margaritas and thinking maybe this global warming thing isn’t so bad after all. But I didn’t feel guilty. Did you? No matter, we’re all about to get a good, frosty spanking to teach us a lesson. As we’re reminded on HBO’s Game of Thrones, “Winter is coming.”
Yep, it’s gonna get cold. Snow in some parts, below freezing all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Here in north-central Alabama, we’re expecting nightly lows in the low twenties. People living in Duluth, Minnesota may sneer at us for thinking that’s frigid, but on the other hand, we don’t have secure our garbage cans against polar bears and wolverines.
The NWS predicts the return of our much beloved Polar Vortex this winter, leading to unusually cold temperatures over an extended time. Of course, these winter blasts will be predictably interrupted by cynical warms spells whose only object is to coax plants into blooming too early. The returning cold will freeze blooms and buds into a loathsome mush while you spend a catatonic weekend in your bedroom with all the blinds drawn.
But hey, Grumpians, why all the gloom? Let’s turn those frowns upside-down by taking somewhat futile preparatory measures to save those plants we can and bid farewell to those we can’t.
Attend to the following before winter arrives.
Take cuttings of nice annuals you’d like to have next year and root them indoors. I’ve done this with my coleus and basil, my most frost-sensitive annuals. You can do this with petunias, geraniums, and lots of other annuals too.
Bring indoors frost-sensitive semi-tropical and tropical plants. For me, that includes Chinese hibiscus, cane begonia, orange bells (Tecoma), amaryllis bulbs growing in pots, peace lily, plumeria, firebush, mandevilla, snake plant, sago palm, and on the very coldest nights, my 30-year old potted oleander. They all go into my garage. For some, the stay is winter-long. For others, like the oleander, it may last but a few days. Light from the garage windows is sufficient and the cool temperature there means they don’t need much water.
Empty water from hoses, clay pots, small birdbaths, and other vessels before it freezes. Otherwise, expanding ice may shatter them.
Cover winter greens with one or two thicknesses of floating row covers to insulate them. The only green I’ve seen survive a cold winter unscathed unprotected is kale.
For perennials or shrubs of questionable hardiness already in the ground, mound up fallen tree leaves atop them or around the base. My father in Maryland once overwintered a pomegranate by putting a wire cage around it and filling it with leaves. A nun’s orchid in my back yard survived last winter after I mounded a foot or so of leaves over in late fall.
Plant all remaining spring bulbs to take advantage of the winter cold they need to bloom.
Buy up all remaining stocks of toilet paper. Remember, winter is coming. You don’t want to be caught with your pants down.