Beware of Winter
Storm Quinlan

According to, “more than 150 million people will face some type
of impacts from the storm east of the Mississippi River, but the
Northeast, which received accumulating snow on Wednesday on the heels
of record-challenging warmth on Monday, is likely to take the brunt
of the impacts as the storm rapidly strengthens into a bomb cyclone
along the Eastern Seaboard.” The storm is named Quinlan.”

It’s that
“record-challenging warmth” before the storm that concerns us
most. Warm weather induces new growth on winter-dormant plants. When
followed the freezing temperatures, the new growth – leaves,
flowers and all – are damaged or destroyed. Not only that, but
previously dormant plants lose some of their winter hardiness, so
Quinlan can be particularly devastating.

I’ve been
receiving calls from gardeners, particularly in the south where warm
weather persists today, but where below-freezing temps are forecast
for the weekend. From citrus trees, blueberry bushes to annuals and
azaleas, they wonder how to treat them.

Frost on leaves

Here are my

Some spring-planted
annuals should be cold-hardy enough. Snapdragons and pansies, for
example, should be safe enough without protection. Petunias, begonias
and the like will need attention. Flowering trees and shrubs will
also require some care.

Container gardens
may be moved into a garage, sun room or basement. If they’re too
large to move inside, or too dirty, position them near a south or
west-facing wall. Brick walls are the best, but any will do, nor
matter the direction it faces. Radiant heat will moderate the
temperature around them.

container-grown or established outdoors, sensitive plants can be
covered with fabric. Old sheets will work. Blankets might be too
heavy and cause damage.

Do not use plastic
sheeting or tarps. Beside providing too little thermal protection,
plastic in contact with foliage will allow moisture to condense on
the inner surface and the leaves to freeze to the material.
Furthermore, solar heat can build up during the day and cook your

If safety
precautions are taken, letting a fire pit or barbecue grill smolder
all night can raise the temperature around it just enough to protect
your patio plants. Propane patio heaters can do the trick. Even light
bulbs strategically placed and left on all night can help. Never
leave open flames unattended.

Sometimes frost
doors more damage than the surrounding cold air. Outdoor fans left
running can keep the air circulating and prevent frost from settling
on your plants.

These are the most
common strategies that homeowners can take to help their plants
survive cold nights. If you try any of them, be sure to let us know
how they work for you under your circumstances. Your observations can
help other gardeners cope in the future.

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