Here we go again. If you’ve been a gardener in south central Texas through any of our past few winters, you know that plant damage after a freeze is a serious concern. Even a single night of freezing temperatures can cause extensive damage to your plants, leading to their demise if proper care isn’t taken (and sometimes even when proper care IS taken).

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help your plants survive and even thrive in the aftermath of a hard freeze. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the most effective strategies for taking care of plants after a freeze in south central Texas.

Freeze damaged plants recovering.
It may take a few days, weeks, or even months to know the true damage that your plants have incurred after a hard freeze. With some plants, you will know right away. A tender succulent may dissolve into mush as soon as the ice melts, and can be disposed of right away. Other plants may hide their damage (or their resilience) and it might not be until spring, or later that you will know if it’s a keeper or a goner.
New growth can surprise you by resurfacing from the deepest depths of its roots (See pic above.). The key word here is patience. You might not want to hear this, but I’m not sure this is the last we’ll see of ice and freezing temperatures this month.
Be careful surveying your trees. I helplessly watched as the top of one of my neighbor’s trees cracked and a huge branch dropped straight down the trunk. if someone was standing beneath it, that limb could have caused some serious pain or worse. I have a tree limb that broke and is currently wedged in the crooks of other limbs and I’ll have to figure out how to get it free. While my general advice is to wait on any pruning until the last of the freezes have passed by, you really should get those broken limbs down for safety reasons.
Primrose jasmine covered in ice.

After a hard freeze, if you find broken branches dangling helplessly on your plants, it’s ok to remove them. Use sharp, sterilized pruners to make a cleaner cut to your plant than the ragged break. Be sure to be selective and avoid removing more than necessary. If you notice some of the tips of the leaves have frozen, but the rest of the plant looks intact, you can leave them be and wait until winter has passed before doing any more trimming. That foliage, even if damaged, offers your plant a level of protection against the next freeze.

When winter is over and the plants are on their way to recovery, it’ll be time to give them a boost with fertilizer. This will help them gain the strength and nutrients they need to thrive in the upcoming warmer months. As you fertilize, be sure to water your plants consistently, not too little and not too much. Over or underwatering can further stress already weakened plants and can cause more damage than good. Water wisely and judiciously so that your plants can get the perfect balance of moisture and nutrition they need to thrive!

Frozen mesquite tree

Extra Tips for Freeze Preparedness

  1. A day two before a freeze is predicted, check your soil’s moisture levels. If the soil is dry, water your plants deeply and slowly.
  2. Mulch around the base of your plants to keep them warm and insulate them from future freezes.
  3. Consider adding cold-hardy varieties and/or native specimens to your landscape. Cold hardy plants are specifically bred to survive temperatures below freezing and can provide a more resilient garden for the future. Native plants are tough cookies and are used to erratic San Antonio, Texas climate.
  4. Be prepared for a freeze by covering your plants if needed and moving any containers indoors when possible. Having an emergency plan in place can help prevent future losses due to extreme temperatures. When in doubt, cover it up!
  5. Breathe and know that Rainbow Gardens is here for you and spring will come again soon.

The (Still) Happy Gardener, Lisa Mulroy