A tip for home gardeners during this cold snap: Don't sweat it. Linda Chalker-Scott, associate professor with Washington State University's...

Share story

A tip for home gardeners during this cold snap: Don’t sweat it. Linda Chalker-Scott, associate professor with Washington State University’s extension urban-horticulture office, is an expert in cold hardiness. She says most plants grown in Western Washington will survive a winter chill, especially if the low temperatures don’t last too long.

Of course, much depends on location, how established a plant is and other factors, but there are several common-sense steps to take to minimize damage:

• If shrub or tree branches are heavy with snow, gently shake them to prevent breakage. Otherwise, leave the snow on plants for its insulating qualities.

• To protect tender plants exposed to chilling wind, erect a cage or semicircle barrier of chicken wire and burlap, perhaps stuffed with an organic mulch.

• Wrap the containers of potted plants with burlap, foam insulation or bubble wrap. Bunch together several containers, then wrap the entire group en masse for better heat retention.

• Don’t worry if rhododendron leaves, and the leaves of some broadleaf evergreens such as viburnums, sag during cold weather. This winter wilt is a normal reaction to low temperatures; it’s the way the plant reduces the leaf surface exposed to the cold.

• November’s wet weather likely means soils are saturated, a good thing according to Chalker-Scott, because moist soil protects roots. And roots are the first thing to be injured by severe cold. But do not water plants now — especially don’t dump hot water on plants.

Mary Rothschild is a former editor for The Seattle Times.