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Master gardener Ciscoe Morris gives advice on how to protect plants from the cold

How to protect your early growth from late-season frost, according to a gardening expert.

SEATTLE — Potential lowland snow chances this week may be good timing for students on midwinter break, but not so much for local vegetation which is already springing forward. 

Master gardener Ciscoe Morris says protecting your plants from forecasted frigid temperatures is as simple as reading the tag. 

“Many people don’t even read the tags or know what zone the plants are for,” said Morris. 

Most plant tags have basic care instructions and specifically reference the “zone” the plant is most suited for. The zones listed on the plant tag refer to the USDA Hardiness Zone that measures the lowest temp a plant can survive.

The zones span 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Morris says most of western Washington is 7b-8b with an average low of five to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. 

“You don’t need to worry about spring bulbs like daffodils and tulips,” said Morris. 

The concern for your plants comes from mild weather causing premature growth in winter and then late-season frost killing the exposed new growth. 

“If it’s not very hardy you should consider covering it with a sheet or even a fabric bag. Burlap, towels and other breathable scraps work,” said Morris. 

Making a tented covering will better ensure the plant isn’t crushed under the weight of potential snow. 

“Only leave the sheet on until the cold snap is over, and more than a week could accidentally suffocate your plant,” said Morris. 

Potted plants that can be moved to the unheated garage or basement will be happier. Morris says to be sure to quickly rescue any purchased plants that are still in the plastic container. 

“When they are sitting above ground and exposed to the colder temps the soil could freeze so bring them in the garage right away.” 

Pacific Northwest winters are less predictable these days but Morris says you can embrace the changing of the seasons to be better prepared for these unruly winters. 

“I use the fall leaves for mulch around my plants and it’s a perfect blanket all winter.” 

The master gardener is also happy to answer questions. Plant parents can read his blog and listen to the radio shows on his website for more guidance.

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