Plants and Dormancy

Plants and Dormancy:  Herbaceous Perennials (plants that lose their leaves in winter months) may start to show signs of dormancy from late autumn (often called dying back).  As the daylight hours reduce, you will probably first notice that the growth rate has decreased.  Then, leaves will (like the trees), turn yellow, brown and drop off the plants.  Additionally, the frosty nights and damp, wet mornings will breakdown the healthy cell structure in the leaves and stems until the part of the plant above the soil dies back and the roots enter a stage of dormancy.  

Some people who purchase plants at time of the year or earlier on and notice these changes, think that the plant is dying or has died.  If you have purchased a perennial this is most likely not the case and Jo-Anna Cottage Plants will never send anything to a customer that is dying or has died.  As long as your plants have been planted as per the care instructions, in the correct situation and are not sat in a waterlogged area they will awaken in the Spring with added vigour. 

Why do plants become dormant?

Plants and Dormancy, why?...  Plants that die back in winter months do so to limit their exposure to cold and freezing winter weather.  Whilst herbaceous perennials use this coping mechanism, all plants have a certain tolerance level.  If you live by the coast, in particular in the south of the country where winters are milder; you will notice that many annual plants survive the winter sometimes for several years.  It is not unknown to have geraniums, even hollyhocks and roses continuing to flower in East Anglia Coastal areas.  However, you may lose plants that would normally cope with relatively regular freezes if weather is colder than normal or they are exposed to freezing conditions for lengthy periods of time.   

Can I plant in Autumn, Winter, Spring?

Plants and dormancy - is it safe to plant in these months?... Surprisingly many believe that you can only plant in summer.  It is actually much better to plant in the Autumn, Winter, Spring.  Planting in summer provides the benefit of sight... you can see where plants will look best in your borders but they are at greater risk of dying due to high temperatures.  Plants planted in the summer need waiting daily if not twice daily and careful nurturing to ensure they establish.  Although it is more difficult to see where to plant in the winter, it is a really good time to do so.  Perennials are particularly hardy and are likely to produce some root growth, helping them to establish before Spring. 


I don’t want you to think that I am just saying this to sell plants at the quieter time of year so have searched the Internet for an article to support this.  I stumbled across one written for the Guardian by Dominic Murphy, click here to read it but please do remember when you read the bottom part about reliable suppliers and Nurseries that we have a wide range of plants available throughout the year and that if you are looking for something in particular, whilst it may not be listed, we may have it. Click here to visit our shop.

Plant Temperature Zones

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) place different varieties of plants into zones so that you can tell whether or not they will cope with the temperatures in your region.  You can purchase RHS books which give you this information but if you are unsure whether or not a particular variety will be able to tolerate the temperatures email me on and I will check this for you.  It is not an exact science though; mother nature will always hold the upper hand.

Plants and Dormancy:  New Plantings & Ground Frosts

Plants and dormancy - planting in the winter and ground frost...

As we have already mentioned, Autumn, Winter and Spring is a good time to plant and transplant, however, be aware that ground frosts can sometimes cause new plantings to lift or rise out of the soil. Keep a close eye on them over winter and if this happens carefully re-firm them in as soon as it thaws.  Don't plant whilst the ground is frozen!!!

Plants and dormancy  - frost earth heave.

Photo credit: Kevin Marsh,

Late Spring Frosts

These can be most damaging.  If your plants have started to shoot they will be tender and prone to damage.  If there is any risk of frost when your garden is starting to awaken, this is the time when you may want to protect with some garden fleece which you can get from any garden centre or, we do sell it in our shop.

Visit it Jo-Anna Cottage Plants Shop

To buy a large range of perennials regardless of the time of year.

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