Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


February 24, 2014

Plateau Gardening: What cold can do

CROSSVILLE — 2013 temperature data for most locations around the world were in step with this past decade’s warming trend with one big exception — the United States. A USA Today report in January of this year quoted remarks by the Weather Channel’s meteorologist Guy Walton on National Weather Center statistics: “For the first year since 1993, there were more daily record lows than daily highs that were either tied or set in 2013.” Since icy polar air masses aren’t to my liking, I’m hoping the mercury won’t continue this down slide long-term.

On the other hand, a hard winter like the one we have had with fairly consistent cold temperatures and some snow cover is usually less damaging to trees and shrubs than winters like that of 2007 when summer-like conditions from January through March teased plants to  early growth. A week with frigid temperatures at or below freezing in April followed. Lots of established landscape plants died that spring. In general, woody plants transplanted within the prior year or two are very vulnerable. Newly planted shrubs or trees suited to Zone 7 (average lows from zero to ten degrees) set out in Tennessee localities that had previously been considered colder (Zone 6 where average lows are between minus-10 and zero degrees) before the 2012 update of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Hardiness Map, could suffer most. 

Take advantage of mild days from now through the end of March. Walk your property. Inspect plants, particularly woody-stemmed ones. Early detection and treatment of plant insect problems and/or plant diseases can keep trouble from getting out of hand.

However, if you see broad-leaf evergreen shrubs whose foliage has turned an uncharacteristic bronze or brown, don’t be too alarmed. Frozen soil around plant roots can cause cold-season drought stress. Transpiration is a natural process where moisture is drawn up from the roots to leaves. In leaves elements in water are used for food making. Bright sunlight triggers and accelerates that type of circulation. Water vapor and oxygen not used in carbohydrate manufacture are released into the air through small openings mostly on the lower surface of leaves.

When roots can’t bring in enough water to replace that going out, plants go into self-defense mode. Watch for leaves that hang down and fold or cup. If lack of incoming moisture persists, leaf tissue dries out and discolors. The drying may spread to the main plant where leaves attach. At that point, leaves drop to stop desiccation which might otherwise cause permanent and irreversible damage. Trim away injured shoot tips after danger of frost is past. During a cold winter about 18 years ago, folks whose tall Nandina dropped leaves feared those shrubs had died, but most came back after hard pruning.

Garden Events Calendar

• 25th Nashville Lawn and Garden Show “Wine & Roses” — Thursday, Feb. 27, through Saturday, March 1, (10 a.m. -  8 p.m.) and Sunday, March 2, (10 a.m.-5 p.m.) at Tennessee State Fairgrounds. Tickets are available at or at gate: $10 for adults, $9 for seniors (65 and over) and $1 for children 12 and under. Special event tickets are offered for Better Beer Garden Thursday (2-8 p.m.) Wine Festival Friday and Saturday (noon-7 p.m.). There will be presentations by horticultural, landscape design and gardening experts, exhibits, floral design gallery, live gardens featuring spring flowers, plants, waterfalls and fountains and outdoor living spaces.   

• UT Gardens Crossville talk "From Garden to Table: Fruit and Vegetable Health Benefits" — Know benefits of various fruits and veggies to plan the 2014 garden Extension Agents Kelli Bottoms and Jan Williams. Fee is $5. Contact Glenda at 484-0034 or

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Plateau Gardening is written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region. Contact UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (484-6743) for answers to horticulture questions, free publications and to learn about the Master Gardener program. Send email comments or yard and garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae (

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