Fall is officially here! Coming with the season are the cooler temperatures and cold moisture. We have recently received snow; and while there were great moisture components to our cold flurries, many of our plants may need extra attention for the cooler times ahead.
Remember to bring your outdoor potted plants inside, if they are not hardy enough to withstand the cold temperatures ahead. Some hardy plants can survive the winter in their pots. They will need extra protection with a heavy mulch covering.
Be sure to occasionally water through the winter months to protect the plant’s root system. When the soil freezes, the water within the cells can freeze, too, thus not allowing the plant to uptake water. This can cause the plant to dry out and damage the root system.
Plants are miraculous in the ways they protect themselves from the cooler and even freezing temperatures. Plants will begin to accumulate solutes, such as sugar and salt, inside their cells, thus reducing the freezing point. They can also produce different proteins to reduce the chance of freezing and drying out.
If a plant does receive some root damage, they may be able to recover. But, keeping an appropriate watering schedule can help with winter plant losses. A good rule of thumb is to insert your finger into the soil to assess the moisture level every few weeks.
You may only need to water your plants monthly during winter, but be sure to check with the above method for soil moisture needs per plant. Keeping plants in a convenient area, next to a watering hose or can is likely to help with remembering to tend to them.
For potted plants not hardy enough to withstand the cold temperatures of the outdoors, bringing them indoors will help you enjoy them for seasons to come. Remember to examine the plants and inspect the leaves, including the bottoms, for unwanted rodents or insects as they have been outside for the summer months and may have collected outdoor critters.
Remove dead debris from the plants and check the soil quality and health of your plants. Generally, you want to encourage growth by repotting in spring, but poor soil, mineralization and overgrowth is a strong indication to repot your plant before spring. Be sure not to fertilize your potted plants, either outdoor or indoor, as the plant should be encouraged to grow in the warmer seasons ahead.
For plants with an in-ground root system, you may need to add an extra layer of mulch to protect them from the frost. Applying straw to the ground around the plant can also help with moisture retention and soil protection. However, selecting plants for our hardiness zone will aid in reducing plant losses. In Los Lunas, N.M., we are in a hardiness zone of 7a and 7b.
Remember to water your outdoor plants monthly through the winter as well! Especially, outdoor trees as they typically do not go completely dormant. Do not fertilize plants and wait to promote growth until springtime. Wait to prune as spring pruning is most common for plants. However, check with your local extension office for specific plant varieties and their best fertilization and pruning processes.
Ultimately, remembering the moisture needs of your indoor and outdoor plants is most important in retaining plant health and reducing root damage throughout the cold winter months. For further questions on winterizing your plants, call your local Extension Office.
To register for an upcoming program, call the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service at 505-565-3002. For more information, visit valenciaextension.nmsu.edu.
• Valencia 4-H Food and Homeless Shelter Drive, November through Dec. 15. All fresh, frozen and canned items are accepted. Homemade or home-canned goods are not accepted. A list of Valencia County shelter items can be found on our webpage. Donation locations are the Valencia County Extension Office and 4 Daughters Land and Cattle.
• 4-H Youth Open Enrollment through Jan. 15. New member registration information can be found on the Valencia County Extension website. For more information on the Valencia County 4-H program, call the extension office or email Sierra Cain at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Pesticide Applicator Workshop, 9 a.m. to noon, Monday, Nov. 23, and from 9-11 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 24. Offered via zoom. Five CEU’s available. Pre-registration is required, visit the Valencia County Extension webpage for more details.
If you are an individual with a disability who requires auxiliary aid or service to participate in a program, please contact the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service Office at 565-3002 two weeks in advance of the event.
Sierra Cain, guest columnist
Sierra Cain is the Valencia County 4-H/Youth Development agent for the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service.