The Norman Transcript

December 7, 2012

Mild temperatures changing the game


The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — I cannot believe Christmas is only three weeks away. It doesn’t feel right. I’m ready for some cold. Typically this time of year you relax, perform a few occasional garden tasks and enjoy some indoor activities.

The mild temperatures we’ve been experiencing have thrown a wrench in all that we’re used to. The high winds and 60- and 70-degree daytime temperatures have been a game-changer for gardeners. These strange conditions can trouble our plants, too.

Blooming Bradford pears, although an awful plant choice, are probably the most easily confused by warm temperatures. Like pears, other plants may send out new growth, thinking spring is here again. There isn’t much you can do to change the weather, but you have to continue to keep an eye on plants. This means watering containers regularly and still applying moisture to trees and other perennials.

I don’t know about you, but I always have at least a couple plants in containers. Some containers are put together on purpose. Others are plants I just haven’t gotten around to putting in the ground. It is imperative that you water containers frequently, checking them every one to two days.

Potting soil dries out much quicker than ground soil, with fewer buffers against temperature extremes. If you are leaving plants in pots for more than a few weeks, or until conditions are right, you need to “heal” them in. Healing-in is a way to protect plants until you are ready to plant.

This includes grouping pots together, then covering the pots with a thick layer of mulch for insulation.

I like to use areas with a southern exposure, with a wind break to the north. Be sure to run drip hose under the mulch or hand water the pots frequently. This technique will lower the frequency you have to water but not eliminate it.

I suggest you check the moisture on small or newly planted trees frequently. The time to establish a new tree is one year for every 18 inches of stem width. So you have a long-term commitment, typically three to five years on the low end, to nurse a tree along.

After establishment or for older trees, I recommend you water every one-and-a-half to two months this time of year and during cooler temperatures if we haven’t had a significant rain event.

Water established trees by placing a slow-running hose around the dripline, letting the water soak in, and rotating the hose regularly. It takes roughly 1 inch of water to soak 6 inches of soil, so be mindful of how much you need to apply. Sprinkler systems may not be enough to water your plants deeply and thoroughly as recommended.

For other perennials, an inch of water every so often should be enough to keep the roots systems alive and thriving. Fertilizer applications aren’t necessary for anything this time of year, unless you have a plant that is green and growing.

Since the weather has been so mild, I am still recommending you can plant woody trees and shrubs. Just don’t plant anything when the ground is extremely cold or frozen.

Tracey Payton Miller is Cleveland County’s horticulture extension educator for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension.

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