Hard Freeze: Should I Cover My Plants?

November 9, 2019

Cover plants in a freeze

Hard freezes have come early in North Texas, and we're headed for another one come Monday night/Tuesday morning (11/11), with temps predicted to be in the 26F-31F range. I often get questions about what and when to cover plants, so I thought I'd share an answer I just provided to a client yesterday.

This time if year, you may have a mix of newly planted cool-seasons plants, such as pansies, violas, kale and mums, along with some summer leftovers such as croton. You may also have young cool season veggie plants in the garden.

Pansies and violas cold hardy and typically just fine at temperatures down to the mid-20s without protection. so I usually don't recommend you need to cover them at those temperatures. Same goes for kale and cabbage. Violas are generally a little more cold tolerant and resilient than pansies. Pansies and violas are still hardy down into the mid teens, but you'll lose some flowers or flowers buds once you get down into the low 20s or high teens, depending on where they are planted (how exposed versus close to a house or under tree cover).

Your mum plants will survive but their flowers will probably be burned in the freeze.

It's always best to water things in before a hard freeze which will help increase turgidity in the plants, helping to protect them from cold damage.

Veggies & Warm Season Color

If your cool season veggie plants are very young or are seedlings, you should cover them if we drop down to the mid-20s. Otherwise they will usually be fine at temps above that. You'll often see plants such as kale and mustard greens be frozen solid, then perk right back up once the sun comes out.Crops such as spinach are very cold hardy and never require covering in our area.

Some cool-season color, such as cyclamen, is a bit more marginal in it's cold hardiness. If you've recently planted cyclamen, you should go ahead and cover them on Monday. Same goes for primrose or Gerber daisy. Diascia, cherianthus and the like should be fine uncovered, however you could lose some flower buds.

If you have Camellias with new flower buds developing on them, you should go ahead and cover them. It's a pretty typical scenario in this area for camellia buds to be nipped off in early freezes, or by a frost that arrives during a warm spell. Summer tropicals such as croton are not frost hardy. These and any other warm season annuals probably won't make it through the frost, however if we only get to 29F, and you cover them properly, they can survive.

Frost Cloth

The goal with covering plants is to insulate them by creating some warmer air around the plants. So the frost cloth should not be tight on the plants or be pressing them down or against them - or wrapped tightly around them in pots - you lose the insulation value you when you do that.

You need to cover the plants with some slack, or even prop up the frost cloth, but make sure it's tightly secured down at the base around the perimeter, or take it all the way down to the bottom of a raised bed or container. If the frost cloth is just wrapped tightly around the plant, but it's not secured at the base (meaning air can just flow up into the frost cloth at the base of the plants) then the plants are not protected. And that there are no open holes or gaps in overlapping fabric where air can blow through.

Note that you'll get on average about 4-5 F degrees of temperature protection from typical frost cloth - you can double layer it to improve that, or buy heavier frost cloth that is rated for 8-10F protection.

Sometimes temperatures take a hard dive below what is forecast. In such situations even frost cloth won't always do the trick; especially if it's been on the warmer side, then temps all of a sudden get cold. When there are sudden big shifts in temperature, plants don't always have time to acclimate and you may lose plants that are typically cold hardy in our area.

Don't use plastic to cover your plants. Where it touches the foliage it can actually do damage in the cold. You can use blankets and sheets, but remember you're trying to create a warmer air pocket around the plant. Heavy blankets and sheets will provide some protection, but only if they go all the way down to the ground around the plant.

Ice & Snow

If there is heavy ice or snow, know that even if your plants are covered with frost cloth they won't necessarily be protected the same way. When the ice or snow weighs down the cloth and presses against the plants, they can still be damaged. In fact, that can cause even more damage to the plants than if they were not covered. That said, if your plants are not covered and they get covered with a thin coating of ice, they may be just fine, as the ice can actually act as an insulator. But it all depends on the species of plant and it's temperature tolerance.

Backyard Chicken Stories: Hawk Attack!

November 4, 2019

Backyard Chicken Stories

A friend of mine just lost one of her chickens last night and it made me think about all the girls I've kept, and lost, over the years. It might seem silly to some to get attached to a chicken, but if you've never kept chickens you may not realize how full of individual personality they are. Nor how connected to you as their caretaker they can become.

One of the most important things you learn when you start keeping livestock - even if it's in the city - is that you must become an expert on their health and wellness. You are their first line of defense, so you end up studying all sorts of bird illnesses and their symptoms and causes. You have to monitor your birds closely and learn to recognize conditions, whether they be pests, diseases, injury, predator, or flock dynamic issues. You'll learn to administer medications, treat wounds, and be responsible for putting down the animals humanely. In fact, when teaching chicken keeping classes, I'd always advise that if you aren't willing to put a chicken down humanely yourself, you may not be ready for a flock. When it comes to chickens, you can't really just run them to the vet down the street. Most city vets don't treat chickens and aren't terribly familiar with their ailments. You are front line triage.

Often, you can't save your chicken once it succumbs to something like a virus, bacterial infection, being egg bound, or any other number of injuries. But every once in a while, you get lucky. My favorite chicken triage story is one about my black laced silver wyandotte, Kim Deal. That's her on the left in the photo, which is from 2012 Dallas Observer story titled: "The Chicken Quixote". The barred rock on the right is Joan Jett.

you KD!

Me, Kim Deal & Joan Jett
PC: Dallas Observer

We live near a small urban lake, White Rock Lake, in Dallas where many, many birds live and use a migration stop. So we have LOTS of hawks. Hawks love chicken, and they are the most serious predator for our flock. One day I heard some urgent alert squawks coming from the chicken yard. My husband opened the patio door and said "hawk in the coop!!!" Without even thinking I bolted out the door and threw the chicken yard gate open, coming face to face with a huge, mid-flight hawk, who was already trying to make a meal out of Kim Deal. Talons outstretched, the hawk flapped its wings in my face while I yelled at it to bugger off. According to my husband, it was quite the scene.

Once the hawk decided dealing with me was not worth lunch, it flew off and I turned to inspect the carnage. The hawk had gotten a hold of KD a couple of times but they looks of it, but couldn't manage to fully gut her or carry her off. But the hawk had managed to slice multiple large gashes into KD's skin, down to the muscle tissue. This was not good.

Again, without thinking, I yelled at my husband to go get me the BluKote and super glue. I then proceeded to quickly disinfect her wounds - of which there were many - and super-glued all of her gashes closed. Yep, superglue. This is, of course, the original purpose of the product, so why not? I figured if she had any chance of survival, this was the best option. Kim Deal spent about three days in the roost, head hung a bit low. Clearly, and understandably, she didn't feel great. But surprisingly, by the next week she had bounced back and lived another good 2.5 years of chicken life, and egg laying. Crazy. 7 years later, Joan is still with us. My girls are hardcore.

We miss you KD!

Plant Parenting: Cut down on waste by making paper pots!

October 14, 2019

It's no secret that we all need to figure out ways to reduce our use of plastic.

Like it or not, there's a LOT of plastic that gets used in everyday gardening activities - especially propagation and growing. If you're looking to ditch some of the plastic pots you use to start your seedlings and cuttings, consider making your own paper pots!

Wooden paper pot maker
PC: Leslie F. Halleck

Paper pots are easy to make & they help cut down on all sorts of gardening-related plastic waste. Get yourself a wooden pot maker then grab the newspaper.

PC: Leslie F. Halleck

Wrap the paper around around the pot maker handle, and tuck under the bottom edges. A piece of paper around 3" x 10" works best with minimal waste.

Paper pots perfect for seedlings
PC: Leslie F. Halleck

Learn more about paper pots, and other ways to minimize waste when propagating, in my book "Plant Parenting: Easy Ways to Make More Houseplants, Vegetables, and Flowers".

Plant Parenting: Seedlings Need Grow Lighting to Flourish

October 7, 2019

Tiny Seedlings Need LOTS of Light!

If you’re growing in a space with little to no natural light, then artificial grow lighting is mandatory for plant propagation and growth. Seedlings, in particular, will almost always require grow lights - even if you have bright windows.

Young tomato transplants growing under fluorescent grow lamps.
PC: Leslie F. Halleck

The time of year you propagate indoors will also influence your lighting needs. If you start your seeds or take cuttings indoors during winter months, you’ll find that the lack of light and briefer duration of light can really slow things down.

Seedlings require intense amounts of light for specific durations; most windowsills simply are not bright enough, for a long-enough duration, for healthy seedlings. Plan to leave your grow lights on for 14-18 hours, depending on the amount of natural light available.

Tiny tomato seedlings: You can use HOT5 Fluorescents, or LED Retrofit bars in a T5 fixture for seed germination and growth.
PC: Leslie F. Halleck

Grow lamps will need to be placed close to your seedlings - within several inches - in order to deliver the volume of light your seedlings need to thrive.

If you want to learn ALL the fundamentals of how to start strong seedlings indoors, and how to light them, be sure to pick up my book "Gardening Under Lights: The Complete Guide for Indoor Growers".

Plant Parenting: Grow Lamps for Plant Cuttings

September 9, 2019

Grow Lamps for Plant Cuttings

You don't need a lot of light for cuttings

Understanding artificial lighting needs for all your different indoor plant projects can be a little confusing when you're just starting out. There are many different small lighting kits out on the market, but which one's really work for your needs? If you're doing vegetative propagation - that means taking cuttings from your plants - then you're in luck. Vegetative cuttings need relatively low light levels until they've produced a new root system.

PC: Leslie F. Halleck

Typically, you can place your unrooted cuttings near a low-light windowsill until they root. Or, you can place them away from a natural light source and instead use a grow lamp. Complete kits that come with one small fluorescent or LED lamp as the main or only source of light are perfect for rooting vegetative cuttings. You can leave the grow lamp on 24 hours a day until the cuttings root out.

Once your cuttings have rooted, and the main roots start producing side branching roots, you can then pot your cuttings up and they'll need to go into a higher light situation (depending on the species).

However, if you’re growing seedlings without much additional natural light, a single grow lamp such as the one in this kit won’t provide enough light as seeds germinate. Kits with at least two grow lamps are better for seed starting, but I usually use fixtures with 4 grow lamps for seedlings.

To learn all the fundamentals of how to light your cuttings and seedlings, pick up my new book Plant Parenting. To take a deeper dive into light science and how to grow all sorts of plants indoors year-round, pick up my book Gardening Under Lights.

National Indoor Plant Week Giveaway - Unboxing!

September 9, 2019

Plant Parents: Celebrate National Indoor Plant Week

Enter to win my signed books and free plants!

Are you ready for #NationalIndoorPlantWeek next week?! I AM! to celebrate, I'll be doing FIVE giveaways next week, one each day, Mon-Fri (starting 9/16/19) on my Instagram channel @lesliehalleck

I'll be giving away signed copies of both my books Plant Parenting & Gardening Under Lights AND an amazing plant from Steve's Leaves, Inc. for each winner!! Be sure to follow both me and Steve's Leaves on Instagram before Monday so you can play along and enter.

Steve's Leaves sent a special box of surprise plants for us to preview, so check out this unboxing video to see the beautiful lush plants they sent me!

Plant Parenting: Air Laying Propagation on Houseplants

September 7, 2019

What is Air Layering?

Root cuttings right on your plants!

Looking for a way to rehab your large leggy houseplants, and take new cuttings at the same time? You can try air layering. Air layering, or air propagation, is similar to rooting with ground layering or a stem-tip cutting, except you don’t bury the stem in soil or remove a cutting from the mother plant; you root it right on the plant while it’s growing!

PC: Leslie F. Halleck

Air layering involves creating a wound on the stem where you'll take a cutting, tricking your plant into growing new roots right on the stem...before you take the cutting.

My fiddle leaf fig has gotten a bit lanky. So, I’ve air layered it on a side branch. Once roots develop to the edges of the air-layering ball, I’ll cut off the entire section and pot it up as a new plant. Take off the cutting will then encourage the mother plant to grow new side shoots and fill out.

If you want to learn all the fundamentals of plant propagation, such as air layering, be sure to pick up my new book Plant Parenting.

Plant Parenting: Spider Plant Babies!

September 4, 2019

How to Propagate Spider Plant Babies

Offsets are easy to grow!

Looking for easy ways to make more plant babies? Certain plants make it super easy for you. Some species of plants develop offsets (also called pups or plantlets) on flowering stems that are super easy to propagate. The airplane plant (also called spider plant) is a great example of just such a plant.

Airplane plants are easy to propagate from the offsets they produce at the ends of flowers stems.
PC: Botanopia

Offsets usually already have root initials that just need to come into contact with water or moist soil to begin growing an entirely new plant that is a clone of the mother plant. These offsets can be snipped right off the stem and planted - or water rooted. Once the new roots have begun to produce side branches, you can pot your plant baby up into it's own pot.

If you want to learn all the fundamentals of plant propagation, pick up my new book Plant Parenting today!

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