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Winterkill on Plants

Winterkill on Plants

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

Larry A. Sagers Regional Horticultural Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office © All Rights Reserved

This time of year is always frustrating for gardeners. The warmer days make you want to get out and start planting, while the colder, snowy days make you want to hibernate for few more weeks. I suspect this is the groundhog syndrome where you don=t know whether to be in or out.

If you think you have a hard time deciding whether to be inside or outside think of your plants. They cannot come in and must take all that Mother Nature dishes out to them.

Winter damage falls into several broad categories, including unanticipated cold temperatures. Early frost in the fall kills the leaves on the tree or damages the fruit before it is harvested. Late frost in the spring often kills blossom buds, leaf buds, or damages tender annuals and herbaceous perennials.

Another type of damage occurs from the coldest winter temperatures. If they get too cold, non-hardy plants simply die. Plants that flourish and thrive in warmer areas will not tolerate our colder winter temperatures.

The only way to control this damage is to select plants adapted to our area. Temperatures below zero often damages the dormant fruit buds of peaches and other stone fruits. While vegetative buds grow the following spring, fruit buds are already dead. Consequently, there is no fruit the following spring.

Winter damage also occurs on the bark and trunk. Southwest injury occurs from the alternate warming and freezing of bark tissue on the southwest side of the tree. Blackheart is a condition that occurs as extreme cold temperatures kill the cambium and inner layers of the plant. Interior wood is no longer functional for conducting water or storing food. Over time trees decline and may eventually die.

Frost cracks are large longitudinal cracks in the trunk of a tree. These large cracks form when wood with high moisture content freezes, opening a large wound in the trunk.

Plants cannot avoid extremely low winter temperatures. Selecting cold hardy plants is one way of dealing with the problem, but many varieties are eliminated if selections are only on that basis.

Blackheart and frost cracks have no real control. Southwest winter damage is best controlled by wrapping or painting the trunks with white latex paint.


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