It’s possible for plants to die in their sleep

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I bought several big containers and have them on my patio. I have planted a number of perennials and shrubs in them in the spring, some in each pot. They do well and grow. Then, next spring, they are dead. I am picking plants that are hardy to this region. They had wonderful care while they were growing; but why do they all die over the winter?

It’s not their summer life that’s killing them; it’s their winter life. Yes, it’s possible to die in your sleep.

If you are choosing plants that are zone hardy, which means they are rated to grow in zone five or lower. That means the minimum winter temperatures could drop to between 10 to 20 degrees below zero.

Every so many winters, we have nights that drop that low. If it gets colder, some of the zone five plants with woody stems or branches could become damaged or die to the ground. The roots often remain alive even if the top gets killed. But this only works if the plant has its roots in the ground. The soil takes a long time to heat and cool. If it is correctly mulched with three inches of mulch, it will take even longer.

The containers are puny little objects sitting above the ground. Heat and cold affect the top and sides of the container quickly. When the soil in the container warms enough, the plant begins to come out of dormancy. This could be only one day. Then, it gets cold again, the plant cannot return to dormancy fast enough and gets damaged. Buds have expanded or lost their protective covering and now get frozen.

You have several options if replacing plants is getting tiresome. One possibility is to put various annual plants into the containers that are expected to conk out with the first hard freeze. A second possibility is to carefully remove the plants from the containers in the early fall and plant them in the ground. This is difficult to do without ruining roots on shrubs. The last choice is to bury the containers in the ground almost to the rim. This will successfully insulate the container from rapid temperature changes.

If you and those pots are wedded, then go with the first choice of annual plants.

Is it possible to grow garlic in Michigan? I put the garlic cloves in the ground at the beginning of June but when I dug them up in September, they were really small. I want to grow those really huge ones like I get in the store.

The huge ones are called elephant garlic and may be difficult to find to buy for growing and they may not grow as large. They are an entirely different species of garlic than the ones usually grown here.

The garlic that is usually grown around here needs 90-110 growing days. Garlic is a bulb made up of many cloves or sections. When you put cloves in the ground, those days begin to accumulate when the garlic is actively growing.

For garlic to grow, you need a full sun location with sandy soil and organic matter mixed in. The soil needs to hold some moisture but not stay too wet. Garlic should be started indoors four to six weeks before it goes into the garden. Use the biggest clove sections from the bulb. Plant cloves pointed end up, one inch deep.

Garlic is tolerant of light frosts so it is not necessary to wait until June. The other possibility is to put the garlic cloves into the garden in the late fall before and mulch them well. Make sure to fertilize and keep the plants watered. Lack of moisture can cause small bulbs and very hot garlic. Keep plants weed free and pick off any flowers. This will help to grow a bigger bulb.

Contact Gretchen Voyle, MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture Educator, at (517) 546-3950.

About Gretchen Voyle 51 Articles
Gretchen Voyle is the MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture Educator. She can be reached at (517) 546-3950.