Winter Gardening in North Carolina

We have a lot of [human] transplants here from other parts of the country, many of them from much farther north. One question I often hear from potential clients is "When is a good time to plant things here?" We are very fortunate to live in a fairly temperate climate where we have average high temperatures of between 40 and 50 degrees in January with lows averaging around 29-35 degrees. This means that unless there is a very wet or very cold spell, winter can be an excellent time to plant a new garden or renovate an old one.

  • Because we do have temperatures that reach below freezing on a fairly regular basis, the trees, shrubs and perennials enter dormancy for a few months. Even evergreens stop growing. Transplanting a dormant tree or shrub means that it is far less likely to undergo transplant shock than if it is done when the plant is actively growing. It would be like moving a sleeping child from one bed to another versus moving a running one--one will hardly realize the move has taken place while the other could be injured doing so!
  • We get much more regular precipitation through the cooler month of the year, meaning that newly planted trees and shrubs will be treated to more regular and thorough watering, courtesy of Mother Nature. Plants need water even in the winter, and rain and snow are much better sources of water than a hose or sprinkler system.
  • Every day the air temperature reaches 45 degrees or higher, the plant is putting out new roots. This means that even a few weeks of North Carolina's mild winter temperatures assist new plantings in becoming established that much more quickly. They will have better access to water and nutrients from the soil when they get ready to bloom.
  • Many plants bloom in spring, summer, and fall and rest through the winter. Although it is nice to see the azalea or the crepe myrtle in bloom, planting them while they are in bloom is stressful. Blooming and establishing roots use the same fertilizing ingredients from the soil.

We often have short stretches of warm days in between the cold reminder that winter is still here. We can use those beautiful days to plant and replant areas of the garden that need a lift. Winter gardening may provide you with a more beautiful and successful garden project in the long run, along with a chance to enjoy the opportunity for fresh air and sunshine in the middle of January.