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Winter temperatures are here! It might seem early, but they're actually arriving at the average time for north Texas. The best way to proceed is to bring in what's necessary and protect the rest through watering, mulching, and covering. Then, watch that weather carefully, as we all know how quickly it can change!
First, make sure you bring in all container plants that are tropical or cold tender. You'll minimize damage on these, and they won't have to start over nearly as much for the next growing season. Remember that most tropical plants are in danger at the 45 degree mark. Below this, many will be too damaged to survive.
All tender plants staying out should be thoroughly watered–especially up to 24 hours prior to freezing temps. Water provides insulating moisture that will fill plant tissues, making them much more resistant to the damaging cold. Adding liquid seaweed can provide additional protective benefits. If it's already freezing and you've missed your chance to water, wait until temperatures warm up, and water then–but move on with other protective steps.
Newly planted perennials and shrubs will need addtional attention in the landscape, since these do not have an adequately established root system–and this is where mulch is key. After watering, apply mulches–hardwood is a favorite, but any insulating organic matter such as pinestraw or cedar will do. While most plants should already have their protective layer year-round, double-checking this amount now will offer great benefits to ensure the survival of healthy soil organisms. A 2-3 inch layer of mulch is generally ideal to protect most plants.
Frost Cloth is your number one tool to protect your tender plantings. This lightweight, white material is the most flexible option for covering plants. Offering up to 8 degrees of protection, it can be doubled for greater effectiveness. Remember that for some plants, one layer simply won't be enough. Anchor it down from bitter winter winds with the available staples (in some instances, gathering a small amount and securing with clothespins or binder clips to stakes works well). Be sure to leave some air space above the plant as additional insulation, rather than pinning the frost cloth tightly down on top of the plants.
A convenient alternative, especially for containers, is the Planket. This material is slightly heavier than frost cloth and offers a convenient drawstring. Simply cover the plant and draw the cord tight. Remember that these materials are not heavy and allow some air to get to the plants. Never cover with heavy blankets, plastic, or any other non-breathable materials, as these can cause more damage from crushing or suffocation. Plastic can also cook your plants when the sun comes out the next day!
Annual color plants that enjoy cool weather yet are somewhat more senstive include dianthus, snapdragons, and Iceland poppies. These will benefit from covering if temperatures are close to freezing. While many will survive light frosts just fine, it's the flowers that will be most damaged by the cold. Cover these with a layer of frost cloth or a Planket. Delicate flowers such as primroses and cyclamen will need protection, as well. Below 30 degrees, damage sets in quickly, ruining the otherwise long-lasting flowers. Place a plant stake in the center of the container to help hold the Planket or frost cloth aloft over the plants to help avoid crushing the tender blooms- especially if heavy sleet or rain arrives along with the cold!
Should your plant be too large to bring in, leave them in place or move them up close to the house and cover there. For these, a layer of burlap can be doubled and loosely tied around them to offer enough protection to the root system.
The vegetable garden needs protection, too. Crops such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and delicate lettuces will need covering below freezing. Even though these are the cool season crops, cauliflower especially is senstitive to extremes of temperature and any damage can mean losing your entire crop for the season. Pick tomatoes and peppers– these will be ruined in the cold. Tomatoes can be brought in and placed stem side down in a warm window out of direct sun to ripen.
Continue to monitor the weather and remember to roll up frost cloth and other protective materials and leave them nearby for the next cold front!
For everything you need to know to guard your landscape against the winter chill, just drop by NHG and attend one of our upcoming POP UP classes on cold weather protection. Even if there's not one scheduled, we'll be happy to give you a tour of these supplies and tips on how to protect your garden.