Release date: January 29, 2014

Contact: A. Lynette Parsons, 409-550-3065

Okay, so what do we do now?  Anyone looking at their yard this week is probably asking that question.  Earlier this past month, we had a “light freeze” where the temperatures dipped, but didn’t stay down long.  Since we tend to think we live in a sub-tropical environment here in Chambers County, a lot of us have sub-tropical plants in our landscapes, and we have winter vegetable gardens.  That “light freeze” was a bit of a wake-up call, leaving some of our plants looking sad, or downright dead.  But things like the garden greens, the cabbages and other cole crops, looked okay.  (They actually like a bit of cool, to make them tastier).

A “hard feeze” by definition, is when the temperature goes below 32 degrees, but it stays there for hours (a minimum of 4).  And of course, this past week, we had a couple of days where that happened in spades.  Those onions, turnips, spinach, and collards may still look okay, because they can handle it, but any temps below 25 for any length of time will likely cause some damage.  And most established shrubs, roses, and trees can handle it as well.  They “harden off” in the fall, and for some fruiting trees, “chill hours” are actually needed to make fruit the next year.  And don’t you just wish our cool-weather weeds would not look so healthy in the lawn after weather like this?

But citrus, avocado, elephant ears, and bougainvillea, to name a few, don’t care for what we had last week, any more than we do.  The questions come: do we trim everything back? Do we pull anything up? What if it happens again?  What can we do to make it easier on the plants next time?

Our average freeze date is February 20 around here, which means you have several more weeks before you can feel safe that you are past the “average, and we have been surprised before (I remember one I call the “April Fool’s freeze,” it was so late). I usually don’t trim anything back until we’ve passed that February 20 date. The yard looks pathetic, but you don’t lose more of that precious live plant underneath the dead parts.   And with a few exceptions, almost all of it will come back from the roots and main stems.  Our freeze was bad, but it didn’t last for weeks, like it does up north.

Three things you can do: number one, is water the plants.  They need all the help they can get right now, and if another cold front shows up, plants that are watered are helped with that moisture inside them, and on the ground around them.  Besides, we’ve fallen back into the “mild drought” conditions, so watering your plants is a fairly smart thing to do anyway. The second thing to do is to clean up the ground around the plants, and mulch after that.  If leaves have dropped, they may carry fungus spores or insect eggs that you can get rid of before the warm weather returns; you don’t want that stuff creeping back up the trunks and stems.  And finally, you can mow.  Your warm weather grasses are still befuddled, and the cool weather weeds are still growing.  Mowing the yard in this weather actually helps your lawn later on.

For more info on freeze protection, things to do after a freeze, and general questions on lawn and garden issues, check out Aggie Horticulture at the Texas A&M website, or call the Chambers County AgriLife Extension Office.

– Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.