Warnings from weathermen across all local news channels, cautionary voices shouting from the radio stations -all letting us here in Central Texas that we are in for a cold snap this weekend! While the temperatures have been well into the 90′s over the last month, inevitably fall weather was bound to catch up with us. While it means extra layers and hot beverages for the general public, what does it mean for us gardeners, or more importantly, our gardens? Here we look at how to “winterize” your land to protect it against the cold, while also keeping it productive.
The average date for the first fall frost to settle over our Central Texan landscape is November 15th. This shocking layer of freeze ultimately harms vegetables and fruits that have delicate, tender stems, and vulnerable leaves. Among the most susceptible are pumpkins, squashes, melons, strawberries, and tomatoes. In addition to this produce, flowering plants with open blossoms can also be harmed. Any potted plants are especially at risk, as they do not have the warm earth to cover and protect their vulnerable root systems. How can just this little bit of cold harm a plant? Well, frost destroys vegetation in a two-step process. At night, when temperatures reach their coldest point, water within the plants parts can actually freeze, causing the cell walls to burst and ultimately rot once the rays of the sun warm them come morning. The plant is literally destroyed from the inside out! This may manifest in limp stems, shriveled, blackened leaves, withered flowers, and stunted growth.
So, how can you prevent frost from taking its toll?
There are several different methods that gardeners across the country utilize. First, be sure as November draws near, to avoid using nitrogen-heavy fertilizers on your garden- particularly on penetrable plants. Nitrogen increases new growth, resulting in plenty of tender young leaves which will make the plant itself more susceptible to frost damage. Also, if you are adding new plants into your garden, be sure to place them on higher ground. Low lying areas should be reserved for heartier, more established plants as this level is the hardest hit by frost.
In addition to our frost prep list, be sure that your garden soil is covered with a hearty layer of mulch in order to insulate the ground. The best choices this time of the year are aged manure, grass clippings, and heavy leaf matter. Lay it on thick!
Pay attention to the local forecasts! Thankfully, technology is making life easier on us gardeners as meteorologists can more accurately predict a frost. If you know there is a chance of an overnight freeze, no matter if its light or hard, protect your plants! Move potted plants indoors, and be sure to cover other vulnerable plants with an old bed sheet or burlap.
Some gardeners prefer a watering method that encourages freezing on the outside of the plant as opposed to the inside. Once you know that temperature will drop below 32 degrees fahrenheit, water your garden! Be sure to fully soak every inch of the plant just before the sun begins to set. Saturate the ground surrounding the base of your plants as well. After watering, place a layer of newspaper over the moistened plant, making sure it comes in direct contact with the wet foliage. This will not only ensure heat retention, but also keep the plant moist throughout the long night. Remove the newspaper the next morning once the temperature are above freezing, but do not water your plants. They must be left alone in order to naturally thaw out and warm.
Warning! This should only be attempted with mature, established plants!
Hope this helps you feel a little more confident when protecting your garden against the dangers of frost and freezing. We at YardFarm Austin are happy to come and winterize your garden, arming you with poles and protective covering so you will be ready once those temperatures drop! Just email us for more details. Stay warm this weekend.