As cooler weather begins across the state, Texans need to start preparing their gardens and yards for the drop in temperatures. A good “green” rule of thumb is that the further upstate you live, the sooner you need to start preparing.
“Texans should start thinking about winterizing their yard in early fall, ideally. However, it’s not too late — and even think about spring,” said Michael Arnold, Ph.D. , director of The Gardens at Texas A&M University and professor of landscape horticulture in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Bryan-College Station.
Arnold shared the key things the Texans should do now to prepare for the seasons ahead.
1. Delete past annuals
Plant cool-season annuals to color your gardens in winter. “Annuals are a cost-effective way to add temporary color to your garden year-round by purchasing plants that are suited to the season,” says Arnold. Also, you should immediately plant wildflower seeds, if you have them.
2. Weeding and cleaning
As we enter the winter season, many gardeners will find it the perfect time to remove unwanted plants. Weeding now will minimize the work your garden will require for the remaining three seasons. Gardeners should also apply a pre-emergent herbicide, or “weedkiller,” for cool-season weeds in landscaped beds and turf areas, if desired.
3. Plant trees and shrubs
Late fall is the perfect time to plant woody plants so roots can establish themselves before the summer heat. The Texas A&M Forest Service has several web apps that provide good tree species options and recommendations for specific regions of Texas and how to care for trees, including pest and disease management.
4. Trim trees and shrubs
As the weather turns cold and the plants really go into winter dormancy, it’s time to prune. Arnold recommends raising branches on shade trees, removing overlapping branches on trees, setting up scaffolding offshoots on orchard plants, and pruning flowering shrubs on the new wood at the beginning of February at the latest.
He cautions about the importance of being aware if a tree is blooming on new wood, like crape myrtle, or on old wood, like apple or pear.
“If you prune branches off plants that flower on old wood, you’re removing the buds that formed in the fall and will flower in the spring,” Arnold said. He suggested “pruning flowering plants on old wood immediately after flowering.”
5. Plant grass seeds
Temperatures have cooled enough to overseed grass or spread grass seed directly on your lawn without turning the soil. “But it’s a double-edged sword,” Arnold said. “You can get beautiful green grass even in winter, but you have to be prepared to nurture it. Water while the seed germinates, then mow. So think twice if you want to do that.
6. Divide and transplant
Choose cool season plants like pansies, snapdragons, dianthus, ornamental cabbage, kale and others. Keep in mind that annuals usually only last one season, while perennials can come back for years or even decades.
7. Consider winter vegetables
Many parts of Texas can get a final harvest in late fall, and now is the time to transplant cool-season vegetables if you live in warmer parts of the state.
8. Use the leaves as mulch
Dead leaves make an ideal mulch or compost. In late fall, after the first frosts and before the first hard freeze, Arnold recommends considering using these mulched leaves or the shredded bark around the crown of tender perennials for protection.
9. Take cuttings
If the plants are sensitive to cold, you can take cuttings to propagate and overwinter. Arnold recommends watching for cold nights and observing at-risk plants that may need protection. Lightweight blankets or tarps can be placed over them overnight to protect them from freezing.
10. Move Potted Plants
“Keep in mind that potted plants have roots that will get colder than those in the ground,” Arnold said.
Be aware that plants brought indoors may shed their leaves in response to the change in sunlight, but will then put out new ones.
Tropical plants will need to be in a warmer area of a house with a sunny window, but other plants can be in a garage with a window or on a sheltered porch.
11. Visit the public gardens
Now is the season to be inspired, Arnold said. He recommends that you plan a visit to your local public gardens to take note of the trees, shrubs and vines that offer interest in fall and winter; consider planting them for future years.
“At The Gardens, we get all types of different shapes, colors and textures from different plants to teach people what they can plant in their own garden,” he said. “With a little planning, you can create a pleasant garden in all four seasons.”
12. Clean tools and plan
“Winter is a wonderful time to catch up,” Arnold said. In addition to planning future gardens, winter gives gardeners time to repair and replace tools they won’t need immediately.
13. Prepare your pipes
Arnold said the most important thing homeowners can do before winter is locate their drain and shut-off valves to preserve and protect pipes and irrigation systems. “Find your valves today and make sure you know how to close them.” Purchase or prepare insulation materials for outdoor faucets and exposed pipes.
14. Delay gratification
“Long-lived herbaceous perennials and bulbs should be planted long before you want to enjoy them,” he said. “So now is a great time to plant perennials in the ground and establish them before the cold weather hits.”
With bulbs, Arnold recommended refrigerating them for about six weeks to prepare them for planting around mid-December, so they’re ready for spring bloom.
15. Be patient
Arnold said plants that may appear dead may still be dormant in the spring. As the weather gets warmer, he said you can gently scratch the stem. If it’s still green underneath, it’s alive. “Be patient,” he said. “A little fertilizer and TLC can do wonders.”
Plan an overview
It’s great that we’re getting people to think about winterizing their garden, he said, but we want gardeners to think about spring now too, as well as their garden for the year ahead. .
“Planning ahead means being able to optimize your garden,” he said. “Most of Texas doesn’t have seasons as pronounced as other parts of the country, so we can have the joy of gardening most of the year – with a little planning and preparation ahead of time. .”