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.
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.
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?
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.
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!