Photos courtesy of emerald coast growers

In many parts of the country, we’re about to devolve into the time of year in which the most interesting question we ask is, “What kind of winter are you having?” Whether you have a warm winter, a cold winter, a warm and wet winter, or a winter with snow cover, they’re all different answers to the same question. The real question we should ask is, “What are you doing differently?”

Keeping tabs on the winter weather can have a dramatic effect on your crops, but only if you make adjustments. You can’t count on doing the same thing no matter what the temperature. Consider your winter, and plan ahead on how you’ll prepare to wake plants up come spring. Here are a few thoughts.

Warm & wet warp winter’s effects

A warm and wet winter is a great example of how weather can impact crops. This can be a prime environment for fungal pathogens to move in on root systems. It’s a situation where dormant plants and warm active soil combine to cause a lot of damage over the course of the winter. This can be combatted in different ways.

Controlling irrigation and fungicide applications are options, but only if you take action. If you’re used to cold winters where crops stay frozen for long periods most years, it can slip under the radar. The damage reveals itself in spring.

Don’t be your own worst enemy

Another common issue in winter is creating large temperature swings by keeping your cold frames closed up when the sun comes out. This can cause high enough temperatures to thaw pots daily. Repeated freeze-thaw cycles can end up damaging pots.

Venting cold frames during the day allows pots to stay frozen and can reduce losses.

Think ahead to spring prep

Prepping for spring begins early. Doing some work to clean and organize pots as you head into winter will pay off in spring.

A great example is removing dead foliage from grasses as you prepare for winter. This removes potential disease pressures and moisture related issues and increases airflow.

Something else to remember: Grasses trimmed in spring need to be cut back before the new foliage gets too big, or you end up cutting off new foliage as well.

Do prep work, to shift work outside of spring, where you have tighter timelines and possibly tighter labor.

Have a fallback fertility plan

As your grasses come out of dormancy in spring, they will grow vigorously. Monitor your fertility levels, and watch for any yellowing of the foliage.

Liquid feed as necessary, being careful not to over-fertilize as that can result in tall, leggy grasses that can flop. If you notice any yellowing, a shot of liquid iron will often bring back that deep green color without causing leggy growth.

Know the facts of forcing

If you’re trying to force grasses for early sales indoors, pay attention to your soil temperatures. Grasses vary, but Miscanthus, for example, will come out slowly until soil temperatures get upwards of 55 to 65°F. This can be a challenge, even in a heated house, if the pots are sitting directly on cold ground.

Elevating pots can help eliminate some of that direct cold transfer from the ground, allowing you to run your house cooler while still getting the plants growing.

Josiah Raymer is head grower and general manager for Emerald Coast Growers, one of the country’s largest ornamental grass and perennial producers.