Week 44 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

I am happy to report that I got 7.5” of rain last weekend.  While I was grateful for the rain, it really did a number on my garden.  Sad to say that I was watching my best fall tomato crop ever develop.  Now, I am watching my best fall tomato crop ever split open from all of the rain.  Ugh!!!  Oh well, I can still eat the bottom halves!

All of this rain is making my fall tomatoes crack open.  I harvest them anyway and eat the bottom half!

All of this rain is making my fall tomatoes crack open. I harvest them anyway and eat the bottom half!

On another note, winter is coming.  Even though it doesn’t feel like it right now, your first freeze is just around the corner.  Since most of my planting, weeding and mulching are done for the season I will be using this rainy weekend to prepare for that inevitable first freeze.  Here is what I do to prepare for winter in my Zone 9 garden.

  • Determine your freeze dates – Your first and last feeze dates are probably the single most important thing you need to know to garden successfully. If you think you know them I suggest checking again.  Thanks to climate change, freeze dates are changing.  Several years ago my first average freeze date was November 16.  I knew this because it was my anniversary.  I got in a small bit of trouble one year because my wife was very upset with me when I chose to finish up some cold frames instead of leaving on time for our romantic get away!  There are tons of tools on the internet to determine your freeze dates.  My favorite is on Dave’s Garden.  Click here to determine the freeze dates for your area. 10-30-2015 6-55-43 PM
  • Oil and sharpen tools- I buy good tools and I take care of them. When you have time, like now, give them a little attention to extend their life and usefulness.  Wash them with soap and water.  Let them dry.  Take a file to the edges of your hoes, shovels and larger blades.  Once they are sharp, wipe down the blades and the wooden handles with linseed oil.  Come spring, they will be clean, sharp and rust free.
  • Row cover – Row cover is the one thing I cannot get enough of. Just about anything can be used for row cover.  However, I recommend using something that is permeable.  I get my row cover from Texas Gardener (click here to purchase the cover I use).  I really think it is a good Idea to get your row cover out now.  I bunch mine up beside my rows and hold it down with T-Posts.  That way, I am not scrambling around to find it and get it laid down in a blowing wind the night that first freeze comes.

    Take cuttings of begonias and geraniums now to ensure you will still have them in the fall

    Take cuttings of begonias and geraniums now to ensure you will still have them in the fall

  • Take cuttings – I have two heirloom begonias and an amazing heirloom geranium that are truly precious to me (and my wife). To make sure that I have these in the spring, I always hedge my bets by taking tons of cuttings.  Begin by filling your pots with a high quality potting mix (I use Miracle grow) to within a half inch of the rim.   My pots are small solo cups. I use a soldering iron to burn drainage holes in the bottom of them.  Once full, water thoroughly and let them drain while you take your cuttings.  Cut your plants on a 45 below a node.  Remove all of the foliage except a couple of leaves and stick them in the potting mix.  I keep these cuttings in my mud room under fluorescent lights and keep them moist all winter.

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Preparing My Plants for “Texas Winter”


This is a very special geranium that I got from Greg Grant. These tubs are too big to take in during winter. If it weren’t for cuttings I would lose this plant in the first freeze.

Well, Texas winter is here.  It is going to freeze tonight for the first time of the season.  Now in my area it is not going to get that cold; 30 or so.  However, it is cold enough that several people have asked me what they should do to protect their plants.

As a general rule, temps in the 30s don’t really require you to do much.  Especially if you are talking about established trees, shrubs and other perennials.  In fact, if they are well mulched, you don’t really need to do anything.  If you want to give these established plants a little extra protection, simply water them well before the cold weather arrives.  Then, water them again the following morning if you can.  While it sounds contradictory, well hydrated soil actually insulates a plant’s roots much better than dry soil.


Many tender perennials like geraniums, lavender, begonias and many succulents are very easy to propagate through cuttings

While our perennials should be fine, 30 is cold enough to get many of our more tender plants.  Because of this, I move most of my potted plants into my garage during our cold snaps.  My garage is detached and unheated.  However, it is always a few degrees warmer inside it than it is outside.

Before I move my plants into the garage I water them well and let them drain.  If you don’t let them drain you can wind up with a very wet garage floor if you over watered (like I always seem to do).  Watering, and the 3 or 4 extra degrees that the garage provides, is enough to keep most of our tender plants safe during our mild winters.


Make your cut below a node and remove all but two or three leaves

We are lucky to live in a place that has such mild winters.  However, every once and a while, we will get temperatures low enough that watering and the garage are just not enough.  Last year we had an unusually cold winter.  We had an ice storm and three different times when temperature dipped into the 20s and stayed there.  I am sad to say that those cold temperatures killed a lot of very special begonias, geraniums, sedums and succulents.

Now this would have been a tragedy if I had not taken some extra precautions.  While all of my potted plants are special, I have one that is just a little more special than the others.  We have a bat wing begonia that belonged to my wife’s grandmother.  Her family has been able to keep this plant going for well over 50 years.  Can you imagine how much trouble I would be in if I let that begonia die?


Place your cuttings in well moistened, high quality potting mix

Since I do not want to lose any of my potted pass alongs (especially the begonia), I always take cuttings of them at least a week before cold weather is scheduled to arrive.  Luckily, things like begonias, geraniums, sedums and succulents are very easy to keep alive (or multiply) through cuttings.

Before I take cuttings of my plants I fill my containers with a high quality potting mix ( I use solo cups with holes in the bottom of them that I burned with a soldering iron).  I then water the soil to settle it and to make sure it is fully hydrated for the cuttings.  Next, I make my cuttings.  I select a branch or stem that is six to eight inches long.  I cut it just below a node on a 45 degree angle.  Then I remove all flowers and all but two or three leaves.  This is probably the most important part of the process.  While plants need leaves to make their food, the do not need lots of leaves to make roots.  In fact, some plants (like roses) can produce roots with nothing more than a green stem.


By taking cuttings each winter I ensure that I have lots of plants in the spring

Once the cutting is properly prepared I stick my finger almost to the bottom of the pot.  I then drop in the cutting and firm up the soil.  I give it one more light watering and then move it to a large galvanized tray.  I repeat this process until the tray is full.  Then I move the cuttings to my “grow rack” in my mudroom that I use for overwintering plants and starting seedlings.

While we are lucky to live in a pretty mild climate, it is severe enough to kill many of the more tender perennials that we love.  If you are lucky enough to have room in your garage for all of your pots you will be fine throughout most of our “freezes”.  However, if you don’t have room in the garage you can ensure that you will have these plants next spring if you take cuttings.  This extra step is very easy and takes up much less room than trying to store a bunch of pots.  Plus it can guarantee that no matter what happens with the weather, you will still have your wife’s  prized begonia in the spring!


All succulents are very easy to propagate through cuttings