How to Protect Your Garden from a Texas-Sized Freeze

The devastating Winter Storm Uri caused Texas agriculture at least $600 million in losses last February. That number includes losses to commercial crops, particularly citrus and vegetables, but also garden center stock, trees and shrubs in nurseries, and plants in greenhouses. If you extend the losses to landscaping that was damaged or destroyed on Texas homeowners’ properties, that amount is surely much higher.

Texas winters are generally mild, which allows many plants to survive year-round. But the state’s fickle weather can create sudden shocks of cold that can be difficult to manage, even for avid gardeners. If you’re cultivating a vegetable garden or want to maintain your yard’s lawn and landscaping through winter, it is important to keep an eye on the weather and take a few necessary precautions to protect your garden from freezing.

Preparing Your Plants

Typically, Texas’ freezes come strong and short, so taking a few simple steps to protect plants from frost and freezing temperatures should allow them to weather most sudden storms.

Water well. Start by making sure your plants are well watered. Plants that have weathered droughts are more susceptible to damage from the cold. Give your plants a good watering a few days before a freeze and again right before the weather hits. Water will also help trap warmth in the soil.

Apply thick mulch. Mulch also helps trap the warmth of the soil, protecting plants’ roots from freezing. If the roots are safe, most plants can handle a little frost on leaves and branches.

Cover vulnerable plants. Cover plants to trap heat and prevent them from freezing or withering from frost. Use a cloth sheet, or even cardboard boxes, trash cans, or plastic tubs, if your plants are in pots. Just make sure they are covered down to the earth, since it’s the warmth of the soil that will keep your plants nice and cozy.

Bring plants indoors. Bring smaller, easy-to-move potted plants indoors to keep warm. Place them near a window so they receive plenty of sunlight and keep them watered — indoor heat can dry them out quickly. Be sure to drain excess water from the container, perhaps over a sink, so it doesn’t collect in the soil and cause root rot or other disease.

Prune trees and shrubs. Before a storm, prune back dead wood, trim branches, and contact an arborist if any tree branches extend above power lines. Ice and snow can create excess weight on limbs, and dead limbs are particularly susceptible to breaking off.

After the Freeze

After a bad freeze, it may look like every plant in your yard is as dead as a doornail. Don’t panic. Most plants are resilient and, even after a freeze, can often spring back to life when urged along with a little tender care.

Exercise patience. Like a doctor, remember to first do no harm. Give your plants some time to recover before you begin hacking away dead branches and leaves. You’ll be surprised how well plants bounce back with a little help.

Trim dead branches and mushy plants. Carefully prune away brown branches that are clearly dead. Cut away wet and spongy parts from plants that appear mushy or squishy. Even warm-weather plants such as agave and prickly pear cacti may turn mushy after a freeze but when trimmed can grow back from the base.

Leave trees alone. Trees are survivors. Cold temperatures send them into a kind of hibernation. You may be tempted to prune away branches that appear dead after a freeze but give them time. By spring, they will bloom with leaves and flush back to life.

Learn more about how to care for your trees seasonally.

© 2021 Texas Farm Bureau Insurance