The Importance of Dormancy in Gardening

In the spring and summer when you look into your garden, you can see new buds and blooms on all sorts of plants. In the fall, the leaves change colors and drop, providing a rather showy display. In the winter, however, it doesn’t seem like a lot is going on. During these cold months, gardening activities are rather limited and this time of year can be considered to be an off season for gardeners everywhere. But even though it seems like there is not a lot happening, plants are busy maintaining dormancy. This phase is essential for plants to survive and maintain nutrients.

What is dormancy? Dormancy is a phase in which plants conserve soft tissue from an extreme factor such as cold temperatures, dry conditions or a nutrient shortage. During winter, the plants at Wellfield Botanic Garden are affected by all of these extreme factors in the winter. In the month of January we average around 20 and 30 degrees. With these frigid temperatures, the ground can freeze and cause a lack of water to enter root systems in plants such as the Japanese Maples in the Island Garden. Along with the cold and dry conditions, dreary weather comes with a lot of cloud coverage. Vegetation everywhere undergoes photosynthesis, with sunlight being an energy source. Without sunlight, they cannot undergo this process to create energy for themselves. Exerting energy during these months would be inefficient, so plants conserve it until spring. Just like animals such as bears and groundhogs hibernate to escape harsh weather, plants undergo this phase of dormancy.

What can be done during the dormancy phase as a gardener? Pruning! Pruning trees and shrubs during their dormant phase causes less stress on the plant. This can help invigorate new growth in the spring. Pruning is also beneficial in the winter because the leaves have dropped, offering a clearer view of the branches. You can see which branches are touching, broken or damaged, and which plants are blocking sunlight from others. This way you can make the call on which branches can be pruned or what plants to remove entirely. 

Along with pruning, vegetation can be transplanted completely during dormancy. This is when they are most able to be transplanted since they are less stressed and are focused on conserving energy. Transplanting can be an important part of gardening. For instance, if trees are not doing well in a certain area because of a lack of shade, they can be moved to an area of your yard with more shade. 

So even in the winter, gardeners can stay busy pruning and transplanting while dreaming of warmer, sunnier days. Both of these things can be done safely and effectively to plants undergoing dormancy. Happy gardening!

Ariana Guerrero
Lead Horticulturist

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