Cooler temperatures and fewer hours of sunlight throughout the fall initiate the cold-acclimation process which enables plants to withstand winter temperatures. The best way to prevent cold damage is to select plants that can tolerate temperatures where you live. Georgia has different climatic zones, so it’s important to select plants that meet the minimum cold-hardy requirements for our area. For North Fulton that’s zone 7B.
Cold temperatures and wind can damage all parts of the plant including fruit, stems, leaves, trunk, and roots. Carefully selected plants can survive a freeze but may not survive a prolonged period of below-freezing temperatures.
Healthy plants have a better chance of surviving cold weather. A soil sample is the best method to determine what nutrients plants need. Contact the UGA extension agent to get information about soil testing. Pruning and/or fertilizing in late summer or early fall encourages tender new growth which leaves plants vulnerable to freezing temps. Check publications B961 and B1065 for information about feeding and pruning ornamental plants. Mulch is important too. It reduces heat loss of the soil, retains moisture, and protects the plant roots which also can be damaged by a freeze.
Covering plants with sheets, blankets, or cardboard boxes helps protect them from low-temperature injury. Plastic sheeting is not recommended; temperatures under the plastic rise quickly which can result in burned leaves or worse. Remove the cover during daylight hours to provide ventilation and allow the release of the trapped heat.
Plants have water requirements during the winter months. Make sure plants get at least 1” of water per week which is essential for a healthy, cold-hardy plant. If a cold snap is predicted, water the plants. Moist soil absorbs more heat and helps maintain an elevated temperature around the plants.
GA Extension offers more than 600 free, research-based publications to help you learn about everything from planting the perfect vegetable garden to raising a backyard chicken flock, and from identifying stinging and biting pests to determining if your agribusiness is feasible. For more information, go to http://www.caes.uga.edu/publications.