Dormant Plant Care: A Seasonal Guide to Nurturing Your Garden in Wintertime
Explaining Plant Dormancy
Plant dormancy is a natural, temporary state in a plant's life cycle where growth and metabolic activity significantly slow down or pause. It occurs in response to adverse environmental conditions, such as cold temperatures, pollinator changes, or limited water availability, and is a survival strategy that helps plants conserve energy and resources until more favorable conditions return. Dormancy varies from plant to plant and is influenced by the growing environment, As winter settles in and your garden's vibrant colors fade, it's crucial not to overlook the care that dormant plants require during their hibernation period--dormant plant care determines the health, vigor, and potential yield of your garden in the coming spring. Neglecting this aspect of gardening can result in weaker, less productive plants. In this blog post, we'll explore the importance of dormant plant care, the best practices to follow, and the benefits of giving your garden the attention it deserves during the colder months.
Caring for Dormant Plants
Different plants have various dormancy needs. Some go fully dormant, while others maintain a semi-dormant state. Use our Growing Guides or research the specifics of your plant species to fine-tune provide the care they require. Below is a general care guide for dormant plants.
Similar to how we bundle up in colder weather, plants appreciate some extra covering for the dormant season ahead. Winter mulch or hay is perfect for regulating soil temperatures, insulating the soil for roots, and sustaining soil moisture. Fall is the best time to mulch, as it sets up your plants for great growth during the next growing season.
Mulch should be set in an even layer that is about 2 to 3 inches deep. Any further than that can prevent water from infiltrating the soil to the roots, where temperature regulation is most needed. Piling mulch into a conical “volcano” shape can cause issues with woody stumps, so even mulch coverage is important. For larger trees and shrubs, the mulch should have a large diameter in order to cover the entire spread of the root system below the ground. Remove old mulch before putting in winter mulch.
Although water can be sparse with trees through the winter, underwatering tends to be less of an issue than overwatering for newbie arborists. In normal water years, this moisture is supplied through our winter snow and rain fall. We know that trees need to bedeeply watered to sustain soil moisture, temperature, and health. The best way to balance the over-under problem with watering is to know your soil. Overwatering is a bigger risk in dense soils and clay, or trees that are planted in shade. Evergreen trees can drop leaves if they are overwatered, or have too much shade on the lower tiers of branches.
Pruning and Trimming:
You should plan on pruning fruit trees well after the last frost. Pruning is meant to stimulate new growth, which is extremely vulnerable to frost damage. Regular pruning is an excellent late winter and early spring habit to adopt, in order to create new strong branches and canopies that can regular garden temperature throughout future dormant seasons.
Shreds from pruning can also make excellent additions to compost piles and mulching for future dormancy seasons. If you live in a growing zone that does not experience a strong frost, you may find that pruning fruit trees in the fall gives your tree just enough time to grow vigorously and navigate changes in growing condition.
Knowing when to prune fruit trees is good for keeping trees healthy, free of disease and injured branches. You can safely prune deadwood. Cold-injured wood will be black or brown under the bark. To be certain where to prune, wait until plants begin to sprout new growth.
Root growth during dormancy varies depending on the plant species and environmental conditions. In many temperate plants, root growth slows down or halts during dormancy, as resources are allocated to support above-ground survival. However, some species exhibit minimal root growth or even continue limited growth during mild winters. This allows them to take advantage of favorable conditions when temperatures rise, ensuring a head start in spring.
Transplanting a plant, especially trees in our 1 and 3 gallon pots (our Large and X-Large sizes) during this time allows it to find its footing in the soil before spring!
Dormant plant care is an integral part of maintaining a thriving garden year-round. By following these winter care tips and taking the time to nurture your dormant plants, you can ensure a successful transition from winter to spring and enjoy the beauty and bounty of your garden when it awakens from its slumber. Remember, a well-cared-for garden in dormancy is more likely to burst forth with renewed vitality when the warmer days return.