Do plants hibernate?

Do plants hibernate?



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Do Plants Hibernate?

How plants prepare for winter

In all but the warmest regions, most plants go through a period of dormancy during the winter. Actively growing plants cannot withstand freezing temperatures for an extended length of time, so plants have adapted by going dormant during the coldest months. During dormancy, growth stops and the plant remains in a state of rest until good growing conditions return.

Hardening Off
Though August and September can bring some of the summer’s warmest weather, by this time most perennial plants have begun preparations for their annual rest. You might think this hardening off process would be triggered by cooler weather, but in fact it is the shortening day length that gives plants the signal. The hardening off process is, at least in part, a photoperiodic response; that is, it is a response to changes in day length. Many plants, notably the spring-flowering trees and shrubs, set their flower buds at this time. As the days grow shorter, plants slow and finally stop any new growth. Then the plant withdraws nourishment from the leaves and enters a fully dormant phase.

Different types of plant tissues respond differently to temperature extremes. A peach tree’s leaves and branches, for instance, may be able to withstand temperatures of -10F. But the flower buds may be damaged at temperatures below zero. If the buds are damaged, then the next season’s flowers and fruit will be affected. Peach trees thrive in places like Georgia where minimum winter temperatures generally don’t go below 0F. Gardeners living where temperatures frequently go below zero should look for peach tree varieties that are particularly winter hardy.

Plants that have not finished the hardening-off process can be damaged by the onset of cold temperatures. Some factors that influence whether or not damage occurs include: the type of plant and its overall health, what stage it had reached in the hardening off process, and whether the onset of low temperatures was gradual or sudden.

What can gardeners do to speed—or at least not hinder—the hardening off process? While cold-hardiness is a genetically determined trait, it is also influenced by cultural practices. Most winter injury occurs in late fall and early winter, when a freeze occurs before the hardening off process is complete. Gardeners should be careful to avoid anything that may slow this process. For example, fertilizing with a high nitrogen fertilizer after mid-summer can stimulate plants to continue growing into fall. Sometimes late-summer pruning can also stimulate fall growth.

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Resting Roses. Here’s one trick to help your roses during the hardening off process. Leave the last flowers to mature on the canes, rather than cutting them or dead-heading the spent blooms. Let the flowers continue to develop into the "hips," or fruit. The process of developing fruit and maturing seeds seems to encourage the plant to harden off properly.


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