Preparing your camellias and other plants for the winter season can be a lot like your automobile. We want to check the antifreeze, test the battery and be sure of the oil type for winter seasons. In northern climates people may put a light bulb near the battery to keep it from freezing or park the car in a slightly heated garage. Oh, about the plants. Perennials in containers may be moved to the garage to over winter. Plants in the landscape will have to endure the winter and some do it very nicely.
These wonderful winter blooming plants will be certain to make people stop and look at your house like it’s for sale at a steal. Preparing them for the winter will only enhance their appearance and make your yard look great and maybe your neighbors jealous.
Winterizing will add a little extra needed benefit to the plants. There are a few things that are easy to perform and will help the plants look great and be very showy through the winter months.
Be careful not to add high nitrogen during this period. The plants are slowing down and we do not want to promote new growth, however a root or bloom stimulate should be acceptable for providing phosphorus and potassium for overall health. At soil temperatures below 65*F root production slows down and microbes that will normally break down most fertilizes may not be at their peak. In this case a liquid or water-soluble product may be best and there are “winterizers” available.
Pruning is possible this time of year just to remove any exaggerated limbs that may break from a freeze after a rain or snow or if heavy blooms. Shaping the plant somewhat would be acceptable.
Covering the plants - yes this sounds silly however it does provide some protection especially to the flower buds. Much like putting a light bulb next to the battery, the temperature is slightly elevated enough to provide some protection. Freeze or frost damage to certain varieties will cause bud abort and may not hurt the plant but you loose the blooms. If possible, covering with a sheet or blanket will also minimize windburn (remember freezing is a drying process). If you have too many plants to rob all the blankets in the house, lightly watering the plants the evening before will shield the buds and foliage reasonably, this is what citrus growers have to do to save their crops.
The blooms are comprised mostly of water so the plant is working very hard to keep up. Moderate water is needed at this time; however if at the threat of a good freeze, watering the day before at the base of the plant will also help insulate the root system.
Mulch provides a number of benefits. It helps to keep the surface soil temperature reasonably stable, retains moisture and will wick out excessive moisture. In the summer months we install mulch to slow weed germination and look good. Adding mulch for the winter will reduce the growth of spores that cause petal blight and as the mulch decomposes it will release some heat. Types of mulch will vary given your location and availability.
Pine bark mulch is by far the longest lasting natural product. Applying 2-3 inches is preferable; in some instances where the soil is very sandy and receives a lot of sun 4 inches is not too much.
Pine straw is excellent but will need replenishing 3-5 times more often that pine bark. Straw can be applied at 4-6 inches without suffocating the roots, once compressed it will be only be about an inch thick.
Raked leaves can be used as an easy way to clean the yard and dispose of debris at the same time. The type of leaves used will determine the outcome of your efforts. Some deciduous trees such as sweet gum or redbud are very messy and the leaves tend to blow around the yard with the slightest wind. Oak leaves are good and tend to stay put somewhat and when decomposing they release small amounts of tannic acid which most shrubs prefer. Try to keep the oak leaves at no more than 2-2 ½ inches.
Cedar and cypress mulch has not impressed me much because it tends to mix with the soil too easily. This mulch is very showy and may be good in areas where slight erosion is possible.
Artificial mulch such as rocks or recycled tires will last several years and generally looks good but provides fewer benefits than natural mulch. A few landscapes almost require the use of artificial mulch to reduce erosion and permit high traffic use.
With a little added help these plants will show their appreciation of your labors through their blooming season. Nothing stops traffic like flowers in the wintertime.