As we were sitting here hoping the power would come back on, I got to thinking about what these power outages were doing to our houseplants. Before I dive into that topic, I want to take this opportunity to thank the men and women who work for the power companies for doing an incredible job getting power back to as many people as possible under dangerous weather conditions.
Now about those houseplants. Most houseplants are outdoor plants in tropical areas of the world. The plants are no strangers to colder temperatures in short durations. We can expect our houseplants to survive. Being inside gives the plants advantages that would not happen if you left a plant outside and frost hit it. Although our houseplants are being subjected to colder temperatures than normal, they are protected from the ice and wind. At this point, just doing nothing and leaving the plants alone is the best thing to do.
It is our instinct to water plants when they look lousy. Don’t water them while the power is out. Cold wet feet will make your houseplants very unhappy. When the power does come back on, resist doing anything until the plant reacclimates to the current conditions. After a day or so, it will be acceptable to water the plants. Remember, plants don’t need as much water during the winter so generally a drink every week and a half is enough.
Give the houseplants a while to recover so resist pruning. What looks dead to us is actually giving nutrients and strength to the plant, I find that this is true with outdoor plants also. Wait a month or so and then prune off any dead or dying plant parts. Please don’t fertilize until March or even April. Under normal circumstances, houseplants should not be fertilized from December to March. If you fertilize now, you risk stressing the plant even more as it is recovering from the cold blast.
I’m going to give just a little advice on outside trees and shrubs. As with all types of gardening, putting the right plant in the right place rings true with trees and shrubs. It is important to plant trees and shrubs that are hardy – not only to our temperatures but also have strong wood. As my husband and I drove to Danville the other day, he pointed out all the Bradford Pears that had either fallen completely over or had broken limbs. I told him this was God’s way of telling us not to plant the weak wooded Bradfords. Sooner or later, they will go down.
But if you were lured by what was available at the garden center, next time go prepared with native species that also give spring blooms such as Shadblow Serviceberry, Amelanchier canadensis, or White Fringetree, Chionanthus virginicus. As for trees and shrubs that have broken limbs, it may be best to wait for spring growth to emerge when you can see the true damage and prune accordingly. Of course, if you have a limb that is dangling dangerously, remove it, best that you can, and get it out of harm’s way so no one gets hurt. For more information, see Virginia Cooperative Extension publication 426-500 “Managing Winter Injury to Trees and Shrubs”.
No doubt these ice storms have taken a toll on our plants inside and out as well as us. My stepdaughter, who lives in Houston, shared this saying with me yesterday – Do you feel like you are stuck in a snow globe and some jerk keeps shaking it! Exactly. While we all are practicing ‘social distancing’ and Halifax County buildings are still closed to the public due to COVID-19, if you have gardening questions, feel free to reach out to an Extension Master Gardener or Extension staff member.