The Dirt on Roots: Wintertime

Frost heave

By Michael Leach

Roots don’t sleep during the winter. They continue doing their job of absorbing water and other essentials albeit at a slower rate. But most important for small flora — they hold the plant in place during the raucous season.

Because roots continue growing in the fall, even as the top of the plant goes dormant, autumn is a traditional planting time for trees and shrubs. Perennials of many sorts also take to fall planting/transplanting — up to a point.

Because perennials are bantam weights compared to woodies, they need extra time to grab hold before the soil begins freezing and thawing. This process goes on for months in some winters and places. Come spring — or before — the little plants may have been pushed nearly out of the ground. Even a bit of exposed root can cripple or kill.

Take a walk around the garden when weather allows and check for bare roots. Gently tamp plants back into place or replant if soil is workable the exposure is pronounced and mulch lightly.

Come fall, err on the side of caution when transplanting and quit early. Even then, a few inches of mulch can help even the winter survival odds — and keep those roots in their proper place.


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