Winter Thaw A Mixed Blessing For Micro-nursery

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Winter Warming Trend
It has been an unusually mild January, and the weather forecasters predict a continuation of the present weather trend right on up until the vernal equinox and beyond. In other words, we are going to have an early spring. While Jerry and I love warm weather as well as anyone, we are a bit concerned that the current conditions will bring out trees and perennials just in time for a late season frost. If you have lived in the Knoxville area for any length of time, you know we can have freezes in late April.

Nursery stock awaiting springOne of our big concerns has to do with our nursery stock. Not only do we not want it nipped by a late freeze, we want it to be ready for sale when customers are ready to buy, not weeks before the gardening season actually gets underway.

From the photo, you can see that we place most of our plants in containers made from black plastic. These containers absorb the sun's warmth, and can be a couple of degrees warmer that the soil they are sitting on. This encourages the plants in them to break dormancy earlier than normal.

One way to avoid this problem is to cover the containers with a fluffy layer of pine needles to shade them from the sun and to insulate them from the heating effect of the unseasonably warm air. We have already done that for our Bletilla orchids, which were dug and potted just a couple of weeks ago. If you do this with your own container stock, here are a few tips:

1. If possible, wait for a cold, cloudy day to apply the cover, so the pots will be as cold as possible.
2. One bale of pine needles (ours come from Lowe's) is enough to cover 50-65 square feet of #300 nursery containers.
3. For added protection against severe freezing, always a possibility at this time of year, have a floating row cover or some old sheets ready to place on top of the pine needles. This will give you several more degrees of frost protection.
4. Make sure to pile up the needles around the outside edges of the pots.