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Changing landscape rides in with cold winds

Posted Tuesday, October 25, 2005 - 9:37 am

By Durant Ashmore

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It's time to consider transplanting plants, trees (11/22/05)
Deciduous shrubs more than "bunch of sticks" (11/15/05)
Autumn leaves are nature's gift for mulching (11/08/05)
Plant colorful winter annuals without delay (11/01/05)
Changing landscape rides in with cold winds (10/25/05)


Time may change me

But I can't trace time."

David Bowie was not discussing seasonal landscape change when he penned his ode to the inevitability of change. However, his sentiments apply when discussing certain events that we will soon be experiencing.

Our landscape is about to change. This change will occur when the temperature reaches 32 degrees. This is the point at which all our summer annuals will die and our warm weather lawns will go dormant. Any tender new growth that has jumped the gun and emerged late this fall will be bit back. Don't worry, this is nature's way of pruning.

Likewise, those azaleas you have which are boldly trying to bloom now will be snuffed out and sent into a deep period of dormancy.

On the positive side, we won't have to look at ugly crabgrass for the next six months. Many weeds are annuals and having their lives snuffed out is a good thing.

The first frost is very illuminating in the manner that it explains microclimates. The temperature may be 36 degrees, yet in some areas the dew freezes into ice. In other areas, even with the temperature several degrees below freezing, summer annual plants may be thriving. Why are some areas freezing with the temperature above 32 degrees and other areas thriving when the temperature is below 32 degrees? The answer is due to microclimates.

You should know the microclimates in your yard. Areas that face east and get the first rays of the sun tend to have much less freeze damage. The direction to which an area faces is referred to as the aspect. Areas with eastern aspects suffer the least amount of cold damage.

Areas on the northwest side of your house are more prone to suffer from cold, winter winds, and it is much later in the day before sunlight reaches these areas. Areas with northwestern aspects are the coldest areas in your yard. It is less risky to plant cold damage susceptible pittosporum on the eastern side of the house than it is on the northwestern side.

Plants on the top of slopes get the full brunt of winter winds and are subject to winter damage. Ironically, plants planted on the bottom of slopes are also subject to winter damage because cold air settles in low spots. The most advantageous spot for a plant is in the middle of the hill slope. If the slope has an eastern aspect the plant will be cozy all winter long.

I am not one to regularly recommend gazing at kudzu patches. However, when it comes to explaining microclimates, kudzu is very informative. Drive through the country this weekend and find a nice big patch of kudzu. Carefully note on your calendar when the first frost occurs. If you go back out to your kudzu patch you will clearly see where the frost has settled and killed back some areas of the kudzu and where frost has not affected other areas of the kudzu in any way.

Of course, if you've got better things to do than drive through the country and gaze at kudzu patches then you'll just have to take my word for it. Explaining microclimates is the only socially redeeming value I can possibly conceive of for this "scourge of the South."

Prepare for the changes that are soon to occur. If you have a sunny seasonal color spot, dig up your summer annuals and plant pansies along with flowering cabbage and kale. The variety that these plants offer can lead to quite interesting designs. It's also time to plant bulbs in your sunny seasonal color beds.

If you have a shady spot for seasonal color and are using impatiens, be aware that pansies won't do so well here. Pansies perform better in full sun. Incorporate evergreen shade perennials into these areas. Ferns, Lenten rose, coral bells and aspidistra provide year-round interest in shade-loving seasonal color beds. There are no winter annuals that thrive in shady areas.

It's usually time to turn off your irrigation clock for the winter after the first freeze. This year we are experiencing a particularly dry fall, so pay attention to just how moist the soil is. When it comes to irrigation usage, let commonsense prevail.

If you're not a fan of David Bowie, perhaps you are a fan of Elvis Presley:

"Changes are a-comin'

For these are changing days."

Editor's note: Columnist Durant Ashmore, MLA, of Fountain Inn, is certified by the South Carolina Nursery Association. He can be reached at 243-3446 or

Wednesday, June 23  

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