Freezing temperatures mean plants need to keep warm too. Here’s how.

Tropical plants and arctic blasts don’t mix well, and with the predicted freezing temperatures there can be major impacts on outdoor trees and plants.


FILE: Flowers are draped in snow after a cold front swept over the intermountain West, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, in Denver. While there’s no snow or ice in the Houston forecast, experts recommend keeping plants warm with insulation or bringing them inside, if possible, in preparation for freezing temperatures.

Tropical plants and arctic blasts don't mix well, and with the predicted freezing temperatures there can be major impacts on outdoor trees and plants. Homeowners looking to keep their garden safe, look no more — here are some tips to help protect and prepare outdoor plants for the cold.

For starters, break the process down into two primary components. One is protecting the above ground foliage and the other is protecting the root zone. Barry Ward is the Executive Director of the non-profit Trees for Houston. He says it's important to do both.

“On a hard freeze and a long freeze, here, you may lose the battle in protecting some or all of the above ground foliage but if you insulate the root zone, then you stand a very good chance with many species, ornamentals and plants coming back.”

Start by using a cover that will act as the protective barrier between the air, freezing wind and your plant. Ward explains what really causes damage is, "when plants and trees get wet and with the wind in addition to cold air, the evaporative cooling is what will really get your trees." A blanket, tarp or anything that will cover the tree and retain a little bit of warmth generated by the tree itself should work.

Secondly, the key is to get an extra layer of insulation on the root zone, so that area of the plant or tree stays nice and warm.

"Then when the freeze is over, there is plenty of carbohydrate storage and energy storage to go back up the trunk and re-establish foliage."

Ward recommends using mulch. He says mulch can make a nice, insulated blanket over the root zone.

"Put a nice layer of Mulch and you can even pile that mulch up, as high as you want on that tree. You can and even bury the lower branches with the mulch. In the kind of freezes we get it is very rare that sort of insulation won't be sufficient to keep your plants alive through a freeze."

Other tips include bringing potted plants inside or covering them in a "frost cloth." If possible, the National Weather Service recommends covering plants before the cold weather sets in, to help retain some of the heat. Also, knowing the temperature thresholds of the specific type plants you own can help gauge how to best protect them from the cold.

Lastly, Theo Ostler is a Conservationist at the Houston Arboretum she says tropical plants will not make it through a long freeze, but should be OK for the incoming cold weather.

"Tropical plants are just not made for this type of weather. But native plants should be fine." Her number one recommendation for local Houstonians is to plant plants durable and native to the area, so that they are a little more sustainable during this season during freezes.

"I just really encourage people to plant native plants because they are going to survive much better than the tropical plants people like to put in their yards. Go for the native plants."

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