Preparing South Central Texas landscapes for Old Man Winter
By Paul Schattenberg
SAN ANTONIO -- With temperatures dropping and the winter solstice upon us, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert has some suggestions on protecting South Central Texas landscapes from the icy fingers of Old Man Winter.
“In dealing effectively with South Central Texas winters, one fact that should be taken into account is that there is no such thing as a ‘typical winter,’” said David Rodriguez, AgriLife Extension agent for horticulture, Bexar County. “But stable winter weather patterns do exist, and these are helpful in establishing a plan of action for ‘winterizing’ outdoor landscapes.”
He said landscape winterizing actions should include:
•Moving container plants away from areas of wind exposure, especially from the north wind. Locate them indoors or in exterior areas with some type of overhead cover, e.g., covered patios, or under eaves or trees.
“Tender and tropical plants should be moved into a greenhouse or other suitable protected areas,” he said. “If your house has adequate light and other conditions favorable to plant survival, it will make a good winter storage area. If conditions are unsuitable, or space is a limiting factor, place your containers and baskets near the garage door or a similar area where they can be easily moved inside during freezing weather.”
•Before freezing temperatures occur, water the landscape thoroughly.
“Water displaces the air in the soil interspaces,” Rodriguez said. “Water is much slower to cool than air, so moist ground stays warmer than dry ground. Besides, there’s less humidity this time of year and people simply often forget their plants need water in the late fall and winter as well.”
•Smaller, less cold-tolerant plants can be wrapped with burlap, blankets, newspapers, or similar suitable materials if extreme conditions prevail.
“Covering or wrapping plants with plastic film can be more harmful than the cold.” Rodriguez said. “Used alone, plastics cause wide temperature fluctuations from day to night. Plastic holds very little heat at night, but creates a lot of heat when the sun is out. Use plastic film only in conjunction with other wrapping materials and remove it during sunny days when temperatures are above freezing for best results.”
However, he added, plastic film is excellent for covering greenhouses, protecting frames, and for man-made windscreens.
•Don’t fertilize in the late fall, especially with high-nitrogen fertilizer.
“Use as little nitrogen as possible, because it will cause new and tender growth to occur,” he said. “If you are going to fertilize this late in the year, use a high phosphorus and potassium fertilizer that will help to thicken cell walls and stimulate more sugar and carbohydrate production within the plant. This acts somewhat like antifreeze in your car radiator. Consider using a 6-2-4 or 4-2-3 analysis when feeding your landscape shrubs and trees in the fall.”
Paul Schattenberg is a communications specialist with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.