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Daffodils in the snow

Photo by Victor Grigas, Wikimedia Commons

Protect budding plants during cold snap

After a couple of spells of unusually warm winter weather, the Omaha area got an early start on spring. Bulbs started to pop out of the ground, and trees and shrubs started to bud. Grass started to turn green. And maybe even your spring allergies kicked in.

But now we’re in another cold snap that may last several days, and snow is expected this weekend. So everyone’s asking: Will my flowers/trees/plants survive?

Here’s the good news from “A sudden brief late freeze is not likely to kill or cause long-term damage to your shrubs and trees, though the early leaves and blossoms may suffer some real damage,” according to Angela Carson. “Prolonged extreme weather can kill or severely damage flowering trees and shrubs, but the majority of spring freeze events will only cause a setback. Most trees and shrubs will recover from this type of damage, unless they are a variety already prone to freeze damage.”

The likely amount of damage depends on how much budding had already taken place, Carson says. “If the leaf buds were still quite small, and had just begun to unfurl, you should still be in good shape. Even if actual leaves had begun to sprout, they are just the initial budding. Once the weather warms again, your tree or shrub will put out another flush of leaves.”

It’s still a good idea to protect plants, shrubs and trees during this revert-to-winter weather. Here’s how to protect those just-budding plants during the cold.

  • Place a 2-inch layer of mulch around plants. This will keep the heat in the ground and help protect roots from heaving, according to
  • Water the soil around the plants during the daytime. This seems counterintuitive, but it works. “Wet soil holds more heat than dry soil to help protect the plants,” according to “Avoid wetting the plants, if possible.”
  • Cover plants and shrubs, and protect trees. Cloth works best, according to Julie Day at Use fabric, old bed sheets, burlap or commercial frost cloths.”For best results, drape the cover over a frame to keep it from touching the foliage. Fabric covers help to trap heat from the soil, so make sure your cover drapes to the ground,” Day says. “Uncover them in the morning when the temperature rises above freezing.”
  • Avoid plastic covers if you can. “Plastic covers can be disastrous, as they retain the moisture, which then freezes,” Carson says. “A woven, breathable cover is allows ventilation and some moisture exchange, and doesn’t encourage fungal diseases.”If you do cover plants, do it before the sun goes down to trap the day’s heat. “If you wait until darkness falls, most of the stored heat in your garden will have dissipated,” says Jill Spencer on
  • Another way to keep plants from freezing is to warm them up with water jugs. “Fill plastic milk jugs with water and place them in the sun, allowing them to soak up heat during the day. Before dusk, set the jugs around your plants and throw a cover over them. The water in the jugs will lose heat more slowly than the soil and the air, and the warmth it emits will keep your plants warm,” Day says. If you don’t have enough milk jugs, you can fill 2-liter soda bottles or other plastic containers. You can also set bricks, large stones or cement blocks in the sun to absorb the heat, then place them under the plant covers, Carson says.

Stay safe and warm this weekend!

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