During the cool season, central Texas gardeners are in the “Set” mode, ready to protect their gardens from any sudden freezing situations. These 7 practices are useful to protect your Southern winter garden.
The cool season garden is the most rewarding in Central Texas despite its crazy weather pattern. You can transition from the high seventies to the thirties in a matter of hours. The month of February is considered to be the most dangerous month for thegarden. The warm days can fool many gardeners into planting string crops, only to be surprised by a hard freeze.
When Should You Protect Your Garden From Cold Weather?
The good news is that the majority of winter crops enjoy the cold weather. A light frost or short freeze may even make them taste better. A few plants will have to be protected from a frost, such as delicate flowers, parsley, peas, cilantro, potatoes, and lettuce. Brassicas and most root crops withstand frost brilliantly.
Hard freeze and sleet are the main winter danger in Central Texas. When the forecast calls for a prolonged period of freezing temperatures, take proper precautions to protect your garden.
1. Water deeply
Watering deeply is important before a severe cold snap hits, especially when rain is scarce. The water will saturate soil particles, which would allow them to retain more heat. When frozen, water will create a protective layer around the plant cell tissue. And this applies to dormant, evergreen, and vegetable plants.
2. Use low tunnels
One of the easiest ways to protect the vegetable garden during a hard freeze is by using low tunnels. The idea is to create a support system in the form of hoops on top of which you would put a row cover.
There are wire hoops that are designed for this purpose, but you can also use eight-feet long 3/4 inch PVC pipes.
- Hammer in an 18 inches long R-bar on each side of the vegetable bed.
- Slide-in one side of the pipe on one R-bar, then slide the other side through the second R-bar, creating a hoop.
- Set a hoop every four feet of the grow bed.
- Then place a cover over it.
- Use clamps to hold in place.
For the cover, the options are widely varied. Local nurseries usually sell White row cover by the yard, and they have it in different thickness options. Try to avoid the thinnest one, as it won’t do much. Big bucks stores, on the other hand, sell them prepackaged in different lengths and shapes. Most of them are thick, durable, and come in a dark green color.
Choose the light color row covers that allow some sunlight to reach the plants during long cold snaps. The dark-colored fabric will deprive the plants of some beneficial sunlight.
You may also use a plastic cover, which is another option, but it should be the last one to consider. First, plastic is impermeable, so it will block any rain from watering the garden in case the cold weather lasts for a few days. Second, you risk burning your crops if you can’t get to the garden soon enough to uncover it after the freeze.
3. Add an extra layer of mulch
Adding an extra layer of mulch is recommended for dormant plants and around tree trunks. Mulch is the gardener’s friend. It’s a handy material for all growing seasons, cold and hot.
A good 3 to 5-inch layer of mulch will keep soil temperature stable preventing soil disruptions due to freeze-thaw cycles. Since in Central Texas, the main problem is not freeze-thaw cycles but rather the dry cold and wind. Mulch will keep moisture in the soil protecting the root systems from dying out.
Mulch could be any organic material that will cover the bare soil surrounding the plants. Avoid colored bark or shredded wood from treated lumber. The chemicals used to treat them can easily leach into your crops through the water. You can use collected fall leaves, seed-free straw hay, tree bark, and pine needles ( they don’t really acidify soil).
4. Hold off on grooming your perennials
This trick is not used as much as it should be. We tend to clean up our gardens too soon for aesthetics. But keeping the bare limbs and unsightly brown leaves over the winter has two main benefits.
First, it will provide shelter for wildlife to hide and stay safe during the harsh weather. Second, it will protect the plants’ root system from freezing. During the dormant time, the deciduous plants’ root systems do not stop living. This is the time they do more growing and nutrient storing for the following season.
5. Protect potted plants
Most pots will do well in the cold season except for stone or clay pots. They are porous and absorb water, which causes them to crack. Temperature fluctuations make water molecules expand and shrink. This constant change in size can cause the pots to crack and eventually break.
Potted plants are also more venerable to weather changes. Contrary to in-ground plants, potted plants’ root ball is exposed to the elements. If the pot is easy to handle, it is best to bring it in during a hard freeze. In case the pot is too heavy to move, water the plant thoroughly and cover the whole thing top to bottom.
6. Bring citrus trees indoors
Growing citrus trees in Central Texas, especially lemons, is very tricky. This region is indeed warm, but at the same time, it gets some dangerous cold snaps that can devastate crops. Grow citrus trees in planters that are easy to move indoors when needed.
One important measure to take is to avoid placing your tree in proximity to a vent or a heat source. Direct heat will turn the air around the tree dry and may lead to foliage burn and loss. It also dries out the soil fast, which will require you to water more frequently.
Texas A&M Agrilife extension provides plenty of information on growing citrus trees in Central Texas. You can learn more about it over here.
7. LED lights for heavy potted plants
Use outdoor LED lights under the covers to provide some warmth. This trick is very useful for tropical plants that can not handle any level of cold. It is important, though, to use LED lights to prevent foliage burn and fires.
LED lights are physically cooler than regular light bulbs. But they do provide enough heat, when used alongside the row cover.