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Gardening with Laurie: Prepare now for next freeze

Nov. 10, 2011 at 5:10 a.m.

Laurie Garretson

By Laurie Garretson

So many of us gardeners in this part of the world love growing tropical plants. With our typically mild winters, it has not been much of a problem keeping them happy during the winter months. But, as we've experienced from the last couple of years, there's nothing typical about the weather any more. As I woke up one morning last week, my computer told me it was 31 degrees. That was a shock. I certainly didn't expect that day. Thankfully, I had brought in a couple of very tender plants the night before.

Maybe it's time we get ourselves ready for the next cold night. I speak from experience when I tell you that it is no fun at all to be out in the dark on a really cold windy evening trying to cover plants or carry them to protected areas.

After the summer that our landscapes had to endure, many plants and lawns are very stressed. A stressed landscape will be prone to cold weather injury. One of the easiest ways to help protect your plants from cold temperatures is to put down a four to five inches deep layer of a loose, dry mulch. Mulching can actually help the soil to retain some of the warmth from the daytime temperatures. A thick layer of mulch can give plants an additional increase of a couple of degrees more cold protection. Whenever mulching, always be sure to leave about an inch space around the plant's stem to allow good air circulation and to prevent stems from rotting.

Water is important to all living things, including our plants. Don't think that you can stop watering your landscape when the weather is cold. Plants are more likely to survive cold temps when they are well hydrated. When a freeze is predicted, check your soil and water if it's dry.

There are many ways to prevent cold damage to plants by covering them. I have heard of many different types of materials that have been used to keep tender plants protected. The degree of warmth needed will, of course, depend on how cold it will actually get; how much wind there will be; how exposed the plant is in the landscape; how long the plant has been in the ground; how cold hardy the plant is; and how long temperatures will stay below freezing.

Any type of material can be used to provide some warmth for plants.

If using plastic as a cover, always have some other form of insulation under the plastic. If plastic freezes, so does any foliage that's in contact with the plastic. Freeze cloth plant covers, available at any garden center, make very good alternatives to bed sheets, table cloths and cardboard boxes.

Christmas lights are great festive ways to provide some warmth for plants. The grid type Christmas lights can be placed right over the plants. If needed, you can then use four wooden stakes driven into the ground at each corner and secure a fabric over these to help hold in some of the lights warmth.

Plastic over this would provide even more heat. Just remember to remove all this as the temperatures rise the next day.

Relocation is an easy way to protect potted plants. Have plant dollies under larger pots to help save your back when transporting them.

If there is no sheltered place to conveniently move your potted plants, group them together under large trees or place them together on the south side of a building.

One more tip. Remember to foliar spray all your plants with liquid seaweed. Used on a regular basis, it's a great fertilizer and also will provide your plants with several more degrees of cold hardiness.

Take the time now to prepare for the next freeze. You will be so glad you did when that night arrives.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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