As I sat here writing this blog today, I was sure thankful for a warm and cozy spot. It was the first day this season that I actually felt a slight chill in my bones when I drove my daughter to school. Our winter season has been so incredibly mild so far that I forgot what it was like to have a cold wind nip at the tips of my ears. I was all set to write about my leggy lettuce experiment, or about trying my hand at overwintering some Crimson Patch caterpillars, but the wind whipping around outside my window prompted me to focus on some friendly reminders about protecting your plants from a freeze instead. Don’t worry, those other blogs are jumbled up in my head and ready to spill out as well, so they will be on their way shortly. Go grab a warm drink and let the dog cuddle up at your feet while you learn how to help your plants through the winter (that is, if we actually have one).
(Interesting weather patterns as usual. Best to get prepared! We are teetering at 30 degrees for a low tonight!)
I am fully aware that San Antonio can dole out some shivering-cold, scarf-and-hat-wearing temperatures one day only to take them right back the next, prompting you to want to pull out your tanks and shorts. So I’m not trying to use a scare tactic with this blog by ranting about the freezing doomsday that lies ahead; I just want to remind you that it is no fun to be caught off guard and have to scramble to save the plants you’ve worked so hard to grow and nurture. We’ll still have some intermittent warmer days ( see screenshot above from today’s weather forecast) and these are the perfect days to tackle some of the following precautions and plans.
- Plant Protection Products: Whether you need to buy something or just gather up your old blankets and tarps, I would I suggest doing this now before a freeze forecast. If you are buying, you don’t want to be out in the masses that are frantically trying to find N-Sulate when the weathermen start predicting “The Big Arctic Chill”. Buy what you need now so you don’t have to traipse around all over town looking for the last option in stock. You may have plenty of blankets and plastic at home to protect your plants, but I bet it’s not at the ready and willing. Pull it down from the top shelves in the attic or dig it out of the dredges in the garage so you don’t have to do it when your fingers are frozen. *Always remember that when covering your plants, use your blankets first and then plastic. NEVER plastic first!* Organize protection now.
(N-Sulate, great protection for new transplants and plants that aren’t cold hardy.)
(Old blankets layered under tarps can work just as well. Blankets first, plastic second, always!)
Moving Plants: Do you have a plan for moving plants that aren’t cold hardy? Where are you going to put them? Clear out a space in the back of your garage so your plants have a new home ready to take them in. You don’t want to be shifting things around at the same time you have to move plants…no fun and hard work! I suggest the back of the garage, but remember that prolonged periods of leaving your garage open in the cold can cause your plants to get nipped too. If you are bringing them all the way indoors, quarantine them in the garage for a period of time first to make sure you aren’t bringing any bugs into the house too. How are you going to move them? Please be careful and don’t hurt yourself. Bend your knees and get help if you are lifting. Simple tricks like sliding a dolly under the edge of a big pot and securing a strap around the pot and dolly can make this task a lot easier….and safer. Maybe some of your plants don’t have to be moved inside. There’s a reason we huddle to keep warm. You can do this to your potted patio plants too. Huddling them not only creates extra warmth, but it makes it a lot easier to cover them when they are all grouped together. *Tropicals in huge pots that can’t be moved can benefit from looping a string of incandescent Christmas lights around the plant and under the protection cover. This creates a little greenhouse effect.* Moving plants to protect them from freeze damage just isn’t fun, but it’s worse figuring everything out when it’s already so cold your hands are almost too numb to lift a thing. Figure it out now.
(It’s whack to break your back! Get help if you need it!)
Water: There are a couple of things, before and after a freeze, to remember about water. Before a freeze – If a freeze is predicted, watering your plants deeply the day before or morning of (12-24 hours before is best), can help to insulate them. Plant cells that are full of water are better protected than those that are not. Soil that is moist also stays warmer than soil that is dry. Try to aim for watering under the foliage as much as possible. After a freeze – Do not think that you are doing your plants a favor by watering your frozen leaves to “thaw” them. All you will be doing is killing them. Don’t do it.
(Don’t “wash” off the frost. Let it be, let it be!)
Sunshine: After a freeze, sunshine can be great! But it can also be a death sentence to your plants if you don’t remove your freeze protection. Even if there are freezing temperatures predicted the following night, if the temps are up and the sunshine is out during the day, remove the protection and let your plants soak it up. If you don’t, you risk cooking your plants. Don’t cook them.
(Let the sun shine!)
After the Fact: So you forgot to cover one of your plants and it now barely stands, with shriveled up leaves, brown and pathetic. You think you are performing an act of mercy by taking the pruners to it. Stop! Don’t do it! Those ugly limbs and stems could be the difference between life or death for your plant. Leaving them in place, though ugly as all get out, will better protect its roots from another possible freeze. Leave them be until early spring, and try to think of them as just an “awkward phase” your plant has to go through to be beautiful again. Love them anyway.
(It’s more apt to survive and come back if you leave the ugly stuff on.)
I hope some of these tips will help you out this season and bring you through the other side of it with your beautiful plants in all their glory. A little forethought can ease the stress of struggling to keep your plants alive. And who needs extra stress through the holidays and new year anyway? Stay warm my friends.
(I highly recommend a fuzzy dog cuddled at your feet!)
The Happy Gardener