Freeze warnings are out, which means that tomorrow my impatiens will look a lot like applesauce. Annuals turned into disgusting slime aren't the only damage cold weather can bring. Here are five quick ways you can head off winter Armageddon in the days ahead.
#1 -- Bring In Your Tender Plants If you live where it freezes, don't wait to bring indoors pots of tropical and semi-tropical plants you've enjoyed outside, such as passion vine (above), Chinese hibiscus, bougainvillea, tree fern, mandevilla vine, clivia, princess flower, plumeria, and the like. It only takes a single night of 25 degrees for most of these to kick the bucket. But spray them first with horticultural oil or insecticidal soap to make sure they don't bring pests and their eggs with them. Indoors, give them as much light as you can. Don't worry if a few leaves quickly yellow and drop. The dimmer indoor light means the plant doesn't need them now. Don't feed these plants until spring and be careful not to overwater -- plants in winter grow slowly and don't need as much water.
#2 -- Protect Your Clay Pots
Clay pots absorb and release water -- they "breathe" -- which is why plants grow so well in them. But when wet clay pots freeze, they develop small cracks that eventually become big cracks and the pots shatter. So either bring clay pots indoors for winter or store them outside in a dry place where they won't get wet.
#3 -- Turn Off Your Sprinkler System
You've had it on automatic all year, set to come on at 4 AM. But it isn't July any more, plants and your lawn don't need the water they once did, and if the sprinklers come on while it's below freezing, you'll wake up to a yard that bears a striking resemblance to Siberia -- or even worse, Minneapolis (just kidding, golden gophers!).
#4 -- Clean Up Your Dead Vegetable Garden
Yeah, I know -- you come out one morning to find limp, mushy tomato, pepper, squash, and cucumber plants still bearing sad, little fruits that will never grow up to be all they can be. But don't just leave the carnage there. Those lifeless plants still have plenty of live stuff on them -- insect eggs, mite eggs, bacteria, and fungus spores. So remove every bit of these summer vegetables and haul them off to the compost pile.
#5 -- Mulch Over Marginally Hardy Plants
Who among us hasn't tried to cheat Mother Nature by overwintering something that isn't fully cold-hardy in our area? I'm talking angel's trumpet, banana plant, calla lily, elephant's ear, amaryllis, lantana, ginger lily, gladiolus, canna lily, agapanthus, and so on. One way to make this happen is to wait until after a hard freeze, remove all dead leaves and stems, and cover over the top of the plant with several inches of insulating mulch. Grumpy uses his mulching mower to chop up fallen leaves and pine straw, but you can also use hay or ground bark.