Wind Chill? Plants Don't Care

(Family Features) - Wind chill levels can have a profound effect on warm-blooded animals.

But, wind chill is a moot point for plants - even though both wind and cold can be damaging, said Ward Upham, horticulturist with Kansas State University Research and Extension.

Plant tissues need moisture to survive, and strong winds sap moisture - even in winter, Upham said. Most often, this harms evergreens, which don't lose their leaves, so still lose water.

"The wind's dessication effects can be great enough, however, to injure or even kill tissue on other plants, too. You typically see that in smaller size wood, such as canes and branches," he said.

The result can be the odd-looking damage called winter kill, which only injures the wood on the side of the plant that faces winter's prevailing winds.

Watering when air and soil temperatures are above freezing can sometimes help limit wind-related injury, Upham said. But, temperatures and humans' winter schedules may not cooperate. Plus, soil moisture evaporates more slowly and is harder to judge in cold weather, so overwatering can result.

"If the air temperature stays zero, however, a wind chill of 40 degrees below zero won't cause any more plant injury than a wind chill of 20 below, except for the wind's drying effects," he said.

Even so, air temperature itself can have an damaging impact - most notably in the years that non-evergreen plants don't have a chance to enter winter dormancy before cold weather hits.

"On a year-to-year basis, however, fruit plants are where cold-related injury tends to have the biggest economic impact," Upham said. "For example, peach, nectarine and some blackberry fruit buds can be damaged when temperatures reach 5 degrees above to 5 degrees below zero. Some apple buds survive temperatures as low as 20 to 25 degrees below zero, but you can lose a Red Delicious crop at 15 below."


K-State Research and Extension