AgriLife Extension horticulturist: Protect, select, plant with colder weather in mind

Writer: Paul Schattenberg, 210-859-5752,

Contact: David Rodriguez, 210-631-0400,

SAN ANTONIO – With the mercury dropping in South Central Texas, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist said it’s time to focus on “winterizing” plants and possibly selecting more cold-hardy plants for gardens.

Pansies are among the flowers that do well in gardens and landscapes during colder weather in South Central Texas. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

“Native and adaptive plants for this region usually survive fall and winter temperatures here, especially if there’s not a continued hard freeze, so are not usually a concern,” said David Rodriguez, AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Bexar County. “But less cold-tolerant plants in the landscape, such as tropicals, hibiscus, bougainvillea, and avocado and lime trees, typically grown in warmer climates, all need to be protected.”

Rodriguez said to cover more delicate or susceptible plants and trees with a cloth sheet, burlap or insulated cover.

“Don’t put a plastic cover directly on the plant as it will not allow the plant to breathe, and direct contact with the plastic when it freezes can cause the leaves to burn,” he said. “However, you can put a plastic cover over another breathable layer.

“For trees, wrap a sheet or some burlap around the trunk and cover the top with a sheet or other insulated cover designed to be used on trees. Make sure the covers are securely fastened so the wind doesn’t blow them off.”

He also suggested providing additional insulation by placing at least a 2-inch layer of mulch or mulch with compost, also known as “living” mulch, at least 2 inches away from the base of a tree or plant.

“Try not to put the mulch against the base of a plant as this can create conditions for bringing insects and causing fungal growth,” he said.

He also noted that very cold or freezing temperatures serve as a natural desiccant for leaves, so when plants lose leaves during this time of year it is not necessarily a bad thing.

“So long as the roots are viable and the plants remain generally healthy, the plants can come back stronger, fuller and better when the weather warms up in the spring,” he said. “This actually provides an opportunity to prune and prepare them for better weather.”

He said plants in containers are more susceptible to cold, so it’s best to move these indoors, into the house, garage or possibly a pop-up greenhouse.

“But don’t forget to take them back out when the weather improves, as they will still need sun and circulating air,” he added. “And larger containers can be difficult to move, so you may want to consider buying a container with rollers on the bottom.”

For those gardeners and landscapers wanting to plant this time of year, Rodriguez said mild winters allow residents of South Central Texas to grow perennial plants.

South Central Texas is in the Texas Gardening Zone III and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zone 8, and this should be considered when choosing plants and making planting decisions, Rodriguez said.

Ornamental cabbage, shown here, can make an attractive, unusual and cold-tolerant  addition to the garden or landscape during fall and winter months. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo )

“This is actually a really good time of year to plant if you know what to plant,” he said. “You can get good seasonal color by planting pansies, violas, alyssum, cyclamen and snapdragons, which are pretty cold tolerant. You might even want to try planting some ornamental cabbage or kale to mix things up a little.”

Rodriguez suggested planting cold-hardy perennials such as lantana, plumbago and Gold Star esperanza.

“Look for Texas Superstar perennials as these have been tested in various soils and climates throughout the state and are chosen for their aesthetic appeal and success in a variety of conditions,” he said.

He also noted fall is an excellent time to plant vegetable root crops like carrots, beets and radishes as well as seedlings and transplants of spinach, kale and even strawberries.

“Fall crops generally do better when started from transplants than from seed,” he said. “Fall vegetable crops are categorized as long-term and short-term crops. The duration is based on the date of the first killing frost and the cold tolerance of the vegetables.”

Rodriguez said this time of year it is best to plant long-term, frost-tolerant vegetables such as  beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, collard greens, kale, lettuce, mustard, onions, parsley, spinach and turnips.

“There are still plenty of opportunities to plant in this region at this time of year,” he said. “Just be sure to do a little homework before you put anything into the ground.”

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