Winter Plant Protection in Central Texas


Be prepared to protect plants during a frost or freeze. In late fall and winter in Texas closely watch the weather forecast. During a frost or freeze, there are steps you can take to protect your plants. 

How to Protect Plants During Cold Weather

  • Cover Plants with frost cloth during a frost or freeze. When used correctly it can modify temperatures around a plant by six to 10 degrees.
  • Check soil moisture and water if it is dry.
  • Mulch plants, to ensure plant roots are covered by at least 2-3 inches of mulch.
  • Move tender potted plants

Should you cover plants when there is a freeze?

Yes, when placed properly over plants, covers trap radiant energy – heat rising from the ground around the plants. When used correctly frost cloth can modify temperatures around a plant by six to 10 degrees. A double layer of this material can be used for additional protection.

What to cover plants with during a freeze

Frost cloth material is spun-bound polyester. It is also referred to as plant cloth, row cover and frost blanket. The cloth must contact the ground so it can trap the heat that rises from moist soil. Secure it in place with stones, bricks or a board. 

Covering plants provides some insulation, but is most effective when it is placed to trap radiant heat. That is why covering a plant like a lollipop does less to protect a plant from freeze damage. When used in that way, the frost cloth traps less heat rising from the ground.

This material is available as a single, large piece of cloth. Use scissors to cut it to fit an area. It can be folded, stored away and used again. 

Cautiously use plastic as plant covers. Vent or remove them during the day. Where plastic coverings touch plants, the foliage will be cold damaged. 


Moist soil - what difference does it make?

Wet soil absorbs more heat during the day and radiates that heat during the night. Water serves as an insulator in the plant and in the soil to allow it to hold warmth longer. Check soil moisture. If it is dry, water both landscape and potted plants before a freeze. If possible, water during the day when the temperature is above 40 degrees F

What difference can mulch make during a freeze?

Mulch serves as an insulation to retain moisture and protect roots. Shredded hardwood, pine straw and shredded leaves are all good landscape mulches. As an insulator particularly to the plant roots and plant crown, mulch could make the difference in plant survival. It also keeps soil moist, although during cold weather water evaporation is slow 

What plants need protection?

Plants are categorized as either hardy or tender based on their cold tolerance. A plant that can endure 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below without damage, is labeled hardy. There are varying levels of hardiness. The most commonly used shrubs, ground covers, trees and turfgrass in Central Texas are hardy usually to 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Plants are categorized as tender if they are severely damaged or killed by temperatures lower than 32 degrees F. Most tropical plants are tender with a few exceptions.

Cold tender plants that should be protected during periods of freezing weather are alternanthera, croton, bougainvillea, begonia, coleus, ginger, hibiscus, some ferns, plumeria, and pothos ivy. Also protect agave, aloe, kalanchoe, sansevieria, bromeliads and some tropical fruit trees.

You may have to decide which potted plants you want to save. Some may be replaced easily or at little cost and may not be worth the effort to protect.  

Protecting potted plants outdoors

Moving potted plants to a garage or covered porch provides some protection. If it’s impractical to move plants, here are 3 things to do to protect them from freezing temperatures.

1.     Gather all potted plants together in the warmest, most protected part of your yard. That is typically a southern exposure. Water the containers.  

2.     Make a tent – a sturdy frame of wood, bamboo or pvc piping over the plant. Cover it with frost cloth. Secure and seal the covering at the bottom with bricks or rocks to hold in heat. Toss in a set of holiday string lights during the night, taking care that all connecting points are safe and covered.  

3.     If making a tent isn’t feasible, mulch soil in the pot and cover it with frost cloth. I use pinestraw on top of the plant, then cover with frost cloth. Secure the cloth around the container. Small potted plants can be covered with cardboard boxes or large plastic tubs. 

Moving Plants Indoors

Before bringing container plants inside:

  • inspect them for pests
  • remove yellowed leaves, dead stems, dried flower stalks.
  • give the leaves a wash and wipe dry
  • clean the outside of the container. 

Once inside, place them in areas with bright light – near windows and glass doors. Expect some leaf drop as plants adjust to indoor light levels. They require less water while indoors, so only water when the soil feels dry and before leaves wilt. Because indoor air is dry, plants benefit from an occasional water misting.   

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