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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Now you can spot plants that have died silently during the winter


Tufted Titmouse
Plants that die during the fall and winter, you probably won’t spot this spring. When the weather warms up, they simply won’t put out leaves. No amount of water will bring them back to life. This loss is usually caused by a lack of water in the winter rather than by winter’s temperatures. Plants may be native to this area, or very adaptable, but no plant can live without water. If properly watered, however, our cold-hardy plants make it through the coldest north Texas weather.

During the winter, the portion of all plants above-ground may turn 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.

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 age of the plant, the planting’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 keep up the physiological changes that 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 mid-February, resume your regular watering schedule.

Plants are busy producing 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 in winter is one way to assure that roots won't dry out and can weather the cold.

For those of us who have planted young plants or bulbs this past fall, it is essential that we keep them well watered when the winter weather is dry. Prolonged dryness from fall through late winter will result in slow growth and a poor showing of flowers in the 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 didn't get regular rains in the winter, you may be seeing the results now.


OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at in Denton.

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