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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Maybe some of your plants died quietly during the wint

Plants that die during the fall and winter, you probably won’t spot until the spring. When the weather warms up, they simply won’t put out leaves. Don't pronounce death too quickly, however. Some plants (like Lantana, Pecan & Crape Myrtle) are late bloomers.

Death is usually caused by a lack of water rather than by winter’s cold temperatures. Plants may be native to this area, or very adaptable, but no plant can live without 12 months ofwater. Or with too much water. If properly watered, however, our cold-hardy plants make it through the worst north Texas weather.

You’re probably thinking; what exactly is ”properly-watered”? A rough guideline follows, but there’s really no standard answer. It depends on a bunch of variables like the species, age of the plant, the plant’s location, the type of soil and rainfall we get. Often, the natural rainfall keeps plants alive, but there’s no guarantee. You’re best off, as during the summer, with native plants that thrive in our soil and require minimal water.

 Plants need a steady, even level of moisture to make them able to handle the cold. I’m not saying anything remotely close to “the more water the better”. The rule of thumb is to water plants thoroughly once every 2 to 3 weeks through the fall and winter months. If there’s a good rain, count it as a “watering”.  Often, no artificial watering is what a plant needs.   When you have to water by sprinkler, make it brief to prevent wasteful run-off. About early-March, resume your regular watering schedule.


During the winter, the portion of the plant that’s above-ground may have turned brown and look lifeless. But the roots are still very much alive. In fact, in Texas (thanks to our mild climate) the roots often grow vigorously all winter.

Plants need to produce high concentrations of dissolved sugars, amino acids and other soluble organic molecules to stay resilient. Water is essential for these processes to occur. This may seem like an unnecessarily detailed explanation, so all we really need to know is that regular watering, summer and winter is one way to assure that roots won't dry out.

For those of us who have planted young plants or bulbs this past fall, it is essential that we keep them well watered whenever the winter weather is dry. Prolonged dryness from fall through late winter will result in slow growth and a poor showing of flowers the following spring. A 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch helps immensely, acting sort of like insulation. (I simply use brown, shredded leaves which are, of course, free).

All living things need water year-‘round. If we don’t get regular rains in the winter, give your landscape a touch of extra care in the form of water and it will reward you with healthy, strong and growing plants.  If a plant hasn't greened up by mid-April, try bending a small branch (as thick as a pencil). If it breaks, the plant's probably dead. If it's springy and supple, it's just taking its time leafing out.