It’s getting to be that time of year in Central Texas when the chances of freezing temperatures are increasing.
Meteorologists do their best to keep us informed, but we must be ready in a moment’s notice to implement our own “freeze protection plan” in order to lessen damage to our favorite plants and flowers.
There are a lot of different strategies when it comes to protecting plants from damaging frost and ice. To truly understand what freezes do to plants, you’d have to go to the cellular level, which gets pretty complicated.
Since I don’t have the space or the knowledge to “go there,” I would like to simplify the complicated explanation and advice I found in an article in Aggie Horticulture from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
During a typical mild Texas freeze, some water inside of plants freezes while other water mixed with salts and other substances remains liquid. Because of the contracting and expanding of water as it freezes and thaws, cellular damage may occur, which we see on outer plant tissues.
The key to lessening this damage seems to be in the thawing process. This article explained the slower a plant thaws, the less damage occurs.
So what does all of this mean? We can minimize plant loss if we work ahead of time to give tender plants a better chance to survive:
Water plants well before a predicted freeze, since moisture retains warmth.
Mulch bedding plants well, using leaves, straw and mulch.
Bring any sensitive tropicals and citrus plants inside the house or garage.
Place potted plants on the ground near a brick wall or put them under a patio, out of wind and frost exposure.
Cover plants using blankets, towels or newspaper. Natural materials breathe better than plastic, which can trap moisture and actually increase damage.
Finally, remember slow thawing is important.
Leave plants exposed to direct sunlight covered for a longer while because the sun could heat up the tissue too quickly and damage it.
The Aggie Horticulture article discourages the idea of rinsing ice and frost off plants in the morning, as it may cause too rapid a thaw.
Darla Horner Menking is a Texas Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org