It’s coming, it’s really coming. The REAL cold weather is right around the corner. South Central Texas folks are certainly aware that the temperatures can rise and fall from day to day with no sense of a pattern. We get as much of a warning for weather changes as a bee gives you before swooping in to give you a little sting. A sudden winter freeze that catches us unaware can sure sting our plants too! All it takes is one really cold night without winter protection and your favorite plant might not be wishing you a very Merry Christmas at all. So, what can you do? Let’s take a look at some of our winter freeze plant protection tips.
6 Winter Protection Plant Tips for San Antonio
1. Watch Winter Weather Forecasts: First off, be more aware of the weather channels. This is a good time to start hitting up the local news stations to get a glimpse of what could be coming up in the forecast. There are multiple wether websites. Find one that is easy for you to navigate. Keep an eye on the forecast and you will be able to plan a little, if you have a trip planned and a hard freeze is expected, you’ll know that you’re better off moving your warm-weather potted plants in, and preparing a way to protect your in ground plants that can’t tolerate the extreme cold. We keep an eye on all of the local stations, and radars. We will try to post something on our Facebook page when we can know without a doubt that you’ll be needing to cover things up.
2. Bring Plants Inside for Winter: You basically have two options for protecting your plants in winter. You can bring them in or cover them up. If you decide to bring in your plants, take time now to clear up some space so you won’t be shuffling things around frantically at the last second. Your plants still want the sun, just not the cold; you’ll need an area in your garage or home that still receives plenty of sunlight. We move a lot of our tropicals, citrus, and warm-weather plants into our greenhouses for winter.
- When you bring your plants in during the wintertime, don’t be alarmed if they drop leaves. They are just adjusting to a climate change.
- Keep an eye out for any creepy crawlies that tend to make their way in through the bottom holes of your pots when they are outdoors; they just may make their way back out.
- To ease the work of moving your pots, invest in some rolling stands, or load up multiple pots in a wagon to make less trips. Bend with your knees, not your back. Be safe and smart when moving large, heavy pots by asking someone to help you.
3. Covering Your Plants Through Winter: You can purchase N-sulate, Plankets, and other garden weather protection that comes in prepackaged bags, or by the roll, or use old blankets, sheets, and plastic. Get your gear together and have it easily accessible for when the forecast predicts a freeze. There are a few important things to remember when covering your plants.
- The major rule to remember when covering your plants is to cover with sheets or blankets first, and then a layer of plastic. Plastic by itself is NO good, and you risk freezing your plant by trapping condensation underneath it. Plastic is cold and can transfer cold to the plant as well. NEVER cover plants with plastic first.
- Watering plants on the morning a freeze is predicted, gives them some extra protection because it warms the soil and helps to better protect the roots. Moisture is released from the watered soil into the air and will warm your covered plant.
- Covering your plant before sunset will make use of the heat that has been in the soil throughout the day. Make sure to uncover your plants the following day if the sun comes out and the temperatures start to warm up. If you leave them covered during the day, you’ll end up cooking your plants from the heat that will be trapped inside.
- A unique way of making your own little “greenhouse” effect that helps to protect your plants through winter is to wrap some incandescent Christmas lights around your plants, then cover with your fabric and plastic.
- Some gardeners choose to build a cold frame around their gardens so they can easily, and quickly protect them from the elements. Cold frames are especially good for protecting new, tender transplants. Google the words “cold frame” and you will be provided with a huge range of DIY ways to build these.
4. Mulch Plants for Winter Protection: Even plants that are more cold-hardy will benefit from a good layer of mulch added to the soil. In ground or potted plants both will appreciate this extra layer of protection. Mulching your plants is like offering gloves, scarves, and hats for your plants. It sure feels better when you are wearing those on cold winter days doesn’t it? A 2″ – 3″ layer of mulch around the base of your plants to protect the roots can be the difference of a plant that survives winter and one that doesn’t. Go get your mulch now!
5. Wait to Prune Plants Until After Winter: If your plants happen to get bitten by some frost damage, resist the urge to rush into hacking off the ugly parts. Although unsightly, freeze-damaged ends of plants actually offer some protection from additional future freezes. The more you cut off, the more you encourage the plant to produce new growth. This is not what you want at this time of the year.
Wait until after the last freeze has come and gone, and then you can shear back your plants. If you just can’t stand to look at the sad, browned ends, try to just snip off a tiny bit (just the tips). It’s truly best if you can wait. Remember that local wildlife also uses our plants for habitation and to get some winter protection as well. Pruning plants back in winter may take this shelter from them.
6. Buy Cold-Hardy Plants. Colorful, cold-tolerant annuals, like pansies, cyclamen, Johnny Jump Ups (violas), can see you through the grays of winter. You can also research perennials and shrubs to make sure the ones you plan to purchase are cold hardy in our area. San Antonio’s plant hardiness zone is 8b – 9a. So look for plants that are cold hardy to about 20°F. (2021 February’s severe winter storm was a unique experience, for us!) Late fall through winter is a great time to plant many cold-hardy shrubs and trees to establish a strong root system and prepare them for spring growth.
If you take note of these winter protection tips now, you won’t have to be stressed out when a freeze warning is predicted. Winter plant protection takes a little planning and preparation, but the reward seeing your beautiful plants reemerge in springtime is so worth it. So, don’t fret “old man” winter. Prepare yourself and then enjoy what winter has to offer.
~ The Happy Gardener, Lisa Mulroy