When wind chill temperatures plummet, gardeners chafe about their landscape and fruit plants’ odds for survival. Some gardeners actually worry too much.


When wind chill temperatures plummet, gardeners chafe about their landscape and fruit plants’ odds for survival. Some gardeners actually worry too much.

“Cold can be a killer if people are growing marginally hardy plants or if air temperatures drop well below what’s usual where they live.

Hard freezes are particularly destructive when plants aren’t fully dormant. But ... ‘cold’ and ‘wind chill’ aren’t the same thing,” said Jake Weber, horticulturist with Kansas State University Research and Extension.

Wind chill only affects warm-blooded animals — including people.

It’s an indexed, scientific measure of how wind speed and air temperature combine to impact animal heat loss, Weber said.

“We know, for example, that our heat-loss rate will speed up as the air temperature drops. The faster the wind is blowing, however, the more dramatic that heat loss is going be,” he said.

Wind chill has no meaning for plants, Weber added. Unlike warm- blooded animals, they don’t try to maintain a particular body temperature year-round.

Plants´ hardiness zone - the area in which they´re likely to survive

winter - directly relates to a single factor: how low the area´s air

temperatures typically go.

"That´s not to say winter winds can´t harm plants, too," Weber said.

"Wind accelerates plants´ moisture loss, and that can be a real

problem in winter, especially for evergreens - plants that don´t

quite enter dormancy. Wind also can crack ice-covered trees into a

shattered mess and whip climbing roses until they snap."

Bundling up protects people, head to toe, from both wind and cold, he

said. But mulching just insulates plant roots and some grafts from

winter´s air-caused temperature shifts. Fortunately, for healthy,

sturdy plants growing in their hardiness zone, that´s often enough.

"Protecting weak, brittle or damaged limbs from winter´s wind is a

separate and often more complicated issue. Gardeners simply have to

do the best they can," Weber said. "The effective approaches can

range from site selection and pruning practices to wraps and stakes."