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Cold Fronts in the Garden by Mario Villarino

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Cold season is here! As you have already noticed, cold front during the fall can create a serious challenges for farmers and gardeners alike. When refereeing to this time of the year, Keith C. Hansen, Extension Horticulturist, Smith Co. – Tyler, Texas wrote for Aggie horticulture: “The cool, crisp days of fall are finally here, bringing pleasant outdoor gardening weather. The change from daylight savings reminds us that the first frosts and freezes of the year are not far away, and that more changes are in store. There is plenty of gardening opportunities in November, but don’t let the days slip by before those important chores are done.

The shorter days and incoming cold fronts confirm the changing of seasons. The first freeze is not far away (perhaps already arrived by the time you read this) and plants must adjust to new conditions. The average first freeze is about November 15, and you should have already prepared your tender plants for that eventuality. Houseplants often are damaged below 40 degrees, and tropical plants cannot stand a frost or even light freeze. Bring in tender houseplants that have enjoyed being outdoors during the summer, and give them a sunny location where you can keep up the humidity.

Check for bugs before bringing them in. A forceful blast of water will remove most unwanted guests. Cut back on fertilizer, and water your plants after the soil slightly dries. Do not allow water to collect in saucers, or you will end up rotting the roots at the bottom of the pot. Plants are difficult to protect, even with covers, during windy, freezing nights because the wind dissipates stored heat. On the other hand, covers offer several degrees of protection if the freezing event is the result of a still, cold, cloudless night following a sunny day and the temperature doesn’t fall too far below 32 degrees. If rain is elusive in the following weeks, irrigate as the soil becomes dry. Drought-stressed plants are more easily injured by freezing temperatures. This is particularly true of evergreen plants. Also, moist soil stores more of the sun’s energy and for a longer time than does dry soil. This energy is released as heat after the sun sets, and provides a degree or two of moderation. Harvest all warm-season vegetables before a hard freeze ends production.

Later in November and on through February is the ideal time to dig and transplant trees and shrubs during their dormant, non-growth period. Right now is really an ideal time to landscape with trees and shrubs, especially those grown in containers. Roots continue to grow even though the rest of the plant is dormant, so these plants will be more ready when the stresses of summer. If you have favorite tender plants you’d like to include in your garden next year, then carefully dig them out of the flower bed, plant them in a well-drained potting mix, and keep in a bright, humid room. They may look terrible during the winter, but if they survive, you can replant them in the garden as soon as the soil begins to warm. Or, take cuttings and root them in a well-drained potting mix.

Now that summer is over, and so are summer flowers, it’s time to replace them with winter-hardy flowers for color. Pansies are the number one choice for blooming bedding plants. They’re hardy, will bloom over a long season, and come in a wide array of colors. The old-fashioned face varieties have been steadily improved for better garden performance, and many new varieties with solid or bi-colors without a face are now available. You can get anything from bold orange, yellow and red, to pale pastels. Miniature pansies are also becoming popular, as well as the old fashioned viola and Johnny Jump-Ups. Other bedding plants to choose from now include snapdragons, calendula, ornamental kale/cabbage, and pinks or dianthus. Some spring wildflowers, can still be sown from seed in early November, including bluebonnets, Drummond phlox, rudbeckia and coreopis. Sow into a bare, prepared soil, very lightly cover and water immediately to initiate germination. Don’t forget the interest plants with berries can add to the landscape. Pyracantha, all kinds of hollies, nandina and beautyberry are just a few of the choices available for bright, winter interest.

This time of the year is actually a great time to plant all kinds of trees and shrubs. Trees are already beginning to change into their fall coloration. If you have been considering a tree for your landscape, and would like one that has brilliant fall color, make several visits to your favorite nurseries and check the tree inventories. Seedling trees may vary in their ability to turn colors – one shumard red oak may regularly have great fall color while another may never be anything but brown every fall. By selecting a tree with good color in the fall, you’ll have the assurance it will be able to put on a good show in future autumns.

Don’t forget tulip and hyacinth bulbs in the refrigerator. They can be planted anytime this month if they have received 60 or more days of chilling. It’s not too late to plant daffodils, either. Camellias will soon be coming into bloom. First the sasanqua and later the popular camellia japonica. Select new varieties for a winter planting while in flower. Consider time of bloom when selecting camellias. Sasanqua camellias, while not having as big and showy flowers as japonicas, bloom earlier, usually escaping late freezes that can blight open camellia japonica blooms. As the grass slows down in growth, keep it mowed at the same height. Collect the grass clippings along with the fallen leaves for an excellent mix in the compost pile. Check existing camellias for scale underneath the leaves and treat with horticultural oil or insecticide if found. Don’t get in a hurry to prune woody plants. Late December through February is usually the best time to prune them – even later into March for crapemyrtles.

Late fall and early winter is an ideal time to adjust highly acidic lawn and garden soils. Most grasses, except centipede, and most vegetable garden plants prefer a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH. Many locations in East Texas have soils which are strongly acidic which limits the potential of plant growth. The only way to know for certain whether your lawn or garden needs an application of agricultural lime, and how much is needed, is to have the soil tested for pH. Most soils, however, do not require yearly applications. Test to be sure.

Once leaf drop begins in earnest, do not let wet leaves stay on the lawn. Wet leaves block beneficial sunlight and keep grass wet, increasing the chances of disease. Mow the lawn regularly to shred leaves into the turf, or rake them and add them to your compost pile. Leaves and grass clippings combined make some of the best ingredients for building a hot compost. Build a compost pile (or 2 or 3) to deal with those leaves. It is not necessary to do all the turning and other things you often read about to get those leaves to decompose. They will eventually rot and turn into rich soil amendment. It will just take longer. But if you are basically lazy or not in a hurry, then pile up the leaves in an out of the way spot, and forget about them. On the other hand, if you are industrious, or would like a source of excellent organic matter to add to your beds in a few months, shred the leaves, and add roughly equal parts nitrogen-rich material, like grass clippings, to the leaves. Moisten the contents as you make the pile, which should be at least 3x3x3 feet. Turn it after each time the pile heats up. As caladiums fade, dig up the tubers while you can still find them. Store them in a dry, cool place. Use dry sawdust or peat moss to help keep the tubers from rotting. With colder weather approaching, birds will appreciate our help in supplying food, water and shelter. Make sure feeding stations are located so you can see the action, yet where the birds are not threatened by neighborhood cats”.

Coming Up:

  1. DOPA training for dairymen, Southwest Dairy Museum, October 25, 2017
  2. Private Applicators CEU’s, November 1, 2017, Regional Civic Center, 5 CEU’s, $30 lunch included.
  3. Private Applicator Training for new licensees, November 29, 2017, Hopkins County Extension Office.

Mario Villarino DVM, Ph.D.
Hopkins County Extension Agent for Ag and NR
1200B Houston Street
Sulphur Springs, Texas 75482

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Author: Savannah Everett

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