By Janet Laminack, Denton County Extension Agent-Horticulture
Looks like it might really cool off here… eventually. It’s not time to panic about protecting plants just yet, unless you enjoy panicking.
Our warm season vegetables: tomatoes, melons, peppers can be damaged if the temperature hits around 33°. Basil can start calling it a wrap with temperatures in the 40s (some even say anywhere below 50°). Tropical plants that you moved outside for a summer vacation can be damaged with temperatures below 50°.
BUT, as we all know, this could be a cold dip blip and we could have many more warm days. Maybe you don’t want to do the great “bringing the plants in” ritual just yet. I make no guarantees, but there are ways to protect your plant babies from low temperatures. First of all, make sure your plants are watered well as this helps insulate the roots. If you have plants in containers, group them together. What is the microclimate like in your plant-growing area? South facing areas with wind protection and concrete will actually be a few degrees warmer, which is sometimes enough to get a plant through a cold spell. If your plants aren’t mulched, now is the time to do that. Also, wrapping plants in frost cloths or sheets/blankets can help keep them warmer. You can also use cardboard boxes but don’t use plastic; the plant parts that touch the plastic will get cold damage.
Many of our heat-loving perennials will look pretty ragged once it gets cold. They are simply going dormant, so don’t rip them out! If in doubt, ask our Master Gardeners!
There are two other things to do before old man winter is here. First, adjust your sprinkler system. Our lawns are going dormant, so no amount of water is going to turn it green. Definitely don’t be that guy with a sprinkler running in a downpour! And don’t run your sprinklers when it is freezing, as you could create dangerous icy patches on streets or sidewalks. Secondly, take that lawnmower for one last spin (maybe…maybe not) and run it out of gasoline. Gas doesn’t overwinter well in mowers, you will be doing future self a favor.
While we don’t know exactly what our Texas weather will do over the coming weeks, now is a great time to start making a plan for your plants this winter. If you have questions about what sort of weather your plants can tolerate, reach out to our Master Gardener Help Desk at [email protected] or 940.349.2892.