Monday, December 10, 2007

Winter Protection

Hi Alex,
I have 5 frost related questions:
Where in NYC can I find burlap by the yard to wrap up pots?

The closest place to me is Jamali Gardens at 149 West 28th Street, between 6th and 7th on the north side of the street. Last I knew they had rolls of burlap that were big and reasonably priced. I also know that Chelsea Garden Center at 580 11th Avenue at 44th Street has rolls of burlap in stock as of this morning. Of course if you are an HSNY member you can present your membership card for 10%off your purchases at both the Chelsea Garden Centers, here in Manhattan and out in Red Hook, Brooklyn. To learn more about HSNY membership click here.

Would you recommend bubble wrap as an extra layer in between the burlap and the pot?

As long as it’s dry enough outside when you wrap the pots I think bubble wrap would be fine. I would not recommend it over the plants because it will inhibit airflow too much, but around the pot I think that would be some good additional insulation. Luckily I have a call in to a good friend and accomplished terrace gardener so I will see what his opinion is as well.

Do you think that I should wrap the stems and leaves of a bamboo plant with a flat sheet of Frost Protek ( as well as wrapping the pot?

I have usually seen people leave their bamboo exposed, but so many people treat their balcony containers differently. I know from our previous conversations that this is a new plant in that location so I might choose to be a little over-protective the first year. Frost Proteks products look very good and I think I remember you saying that you’ve had good luck using them in the past, so I don’t see why not. Many people recommend spraying plants with a spray called Wilt-Pruf that coats the plants with a protective layer to help against winter desiccation, but I am a little wary of that. Even though Wilt-Pruf is derived from conifers and is biodegradable, I’m never sure how well it will break down in spring, and I can’t see how clogging the pores that provide essential gas exchange for the plant is a good thing, even if the plant is considered dormant this time of year. In fact, evergreens this time of year are still performing basic and essential gas and water exchange through their leaves, even though it is as a slower rate than during the hotter months of the year. Therefore, I’d use the Frost Protek, or maybe even just use some burlap if the other is too costly. Maintaining some airflow through the wrapping for the stems and leaves of your plants is essential.

Should I continue to water the pots when they dry out? My balcony gets no overhead rain.

I don’t usually worry about watering during the winter, but that is because my stoop still gets moist even though there is an overhang. That being said I might recommend watering your containers sparingly once a month. Certainly you do not want them sopping wet, but a little moisture in the soil I believe helps protect the roots a little better compared to if they were bone dry.

Have you got any tips about frost protection?

There are only two other things that come to mind. The first is winter mulching. Depending on how much room you have in the edges of your containers, you can use either straw or pine boughs to add an airy but protective layer of mulch before wrapping your containers. By wrapping and mulching, the whole goal is to regulate the soil temperature in your containers as much as possible. It is the repetition of freezing and thawing that can lead to plants crowns and roots receiving the most damaged through winter. If we can keep that temperature nice and constant then your plants will make it through without much desiccation. Secondly, depending on the layout of your balcony, it can be a great help to the plants to move and group the containers together in the most protected spot on your balcony. Placing the containers right up against each other will help the whole bunch of them to be a bit more sheltered for the remaining months of freezing temperatures.

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