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Gardening Q&A

Preparing plants for cold fronts

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Guadalupe County Master Gardeners is responsible for this content, which is not edited by the Wilson County News or

September 30, 2016 | 351 views | Post a comment

Q: A cold front is coming and I worry about my plants. What should I be doing?

A: It’s been a couple of years since I kept track of freezes, but in 2013 the first freeze was in December. If you have tomato and pepper plants in your garden and a freeze or near freeze is forecast, you can cover them with a light under the cover, or just go ahead and pick the fruit. Tomatoes can be kept in the garage and will continue turning red. What you can be doing now is watering and mulching.

Be thinking about where you are going to keep your tropical plants. I will move mine (plumaria, bonsai, ficus, and bougainvillea) onto the porch where I can cover them when a freeze is imminent. Some citrus, such as satsumas, are okay in the yard uncovered as long as the temperature doesn’t go below 26 degrees F. Warm season annuals are ready to be taken out now and replaced with cool season annuals such as alyssum, calendulas, dianthus, pansy, snapdragons, stock, sweet peas, viola, and flowering kale.

Q: What can I do with my leaves?

A: If you don’t have a composting mower, and instead rake and bag your leaves, you might contact one of the community gardens. They will be thrilled (particularly if you deliver). Many people do not know that fallen leaves contain 50 to 80 percent of the nutrients a plant extracts from the soil and air during the growing season, according to Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac. To conserve this “free fertilizer” for yourself, use the leaves as a mulch in your vegetable gardens, in your flower and shrub beds, under your hedges and around your trees. Think about the forest. Nobody fertilizes it, yet the fallen leaves decompose and release their nutrients so that the trees can utilize them. To help the leaves decompose faster, you can run over them with your lawn mower and catch them with your bagging attachment before using them as a mulch.

Q: I need to transplant my flame acanthus so that it will receive more sun. When can I do this?

A: The best time to transplant shrubs and trees is when they are the most dormant, which for us is in the late winter. Welsh suggests hiring a professional to do the job if the shrub is over 4 feet tall or the tree has a trunk diameter of more than three fourths of an inch. Otherwise the root-ball is too big and heavy for you to handle. For smaller plants, you need to cut with a sharpshooter a 16 to 20 inch circle around the plant, each cut being 12 inches deep. Space each cut one width of the shovel apart. This leaves some roots uncut. The cut roots will grow new roots inside the circle during the winter which will help the odds of your plant surviving. In late December or January finish cutting. Then move the cylinder of plant and soil to your already dug hole in the new spot.

Q: I want plants with fall leaf color and winter berries. When do I choose them?

A: Visit the nurseries this time of year so that you can see the colors available. Keep a list.

Clara Mae Marcotte is a Texas Master Gardener with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. If you have a question to be answered, call the Master Gardeners at 830-379-1972 or leave a message to be answered. The website is The Master Gardener research library is open Mondays from 8:30 to noon, at 210 East Live Oak Street in Seguin.
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