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The (Unfounded) Fear of Fall Freezes


By Paul James

When temperatures drop below freezing gardeners all across Green Country freak out, convinced that everything in their landscape is going to suddenly die overnight. I’ve already been asked a dozen times by friends and neighbors – and five complete strangers at the grocery store — whether they should cover their plants this week. And my response to all of them has been the same.

No. Freezes, even hard freezes this time of year are no big deal, at least so far as the vast majority of landscape plants are concerned. And remember that wind chills have no effect on plants.

Sure, annuals may take a hit, but sooner or later that happens every year around this time (it’s why they’re called annuals). And of course tomatoes, peppers, and other warm-season veggies, assuming you still have any growing, won’t survive. But cool-season veggies should be fine. Same goes for mums and pansies. If temps drop below 25 degrees in your area, the flowers of mums, pansies, and azaleas may take a hit, but the plants will survive.

Trees, shrubs, and perennials actually began preparing for winter several weeks ago as daylight hours started to decline by making physiological changes that enable them to survive freezes. Back in late August, they began to slow their growth and concentrate sugars to begin the process of dormancy, which they’ll continue to do in the weeks ahead. In other words, they’re ready for winter.

So there’s no need to worry about your landscape plants as we (and they) head in to winter. Of course, hard freezes in April or May are another story altogether, because they can be deadly to plants. Let’s just hope I don’t have to write that story come spring.

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14 responses to “The (Unfounded) Fear of Fall Freezes”

  1. Teresa Fitzgerald says:

    Does hold true for plants in pots vs the ground? I worry that they are not as protected as plants that are in the ground.

    • Paul James says:

      You’re right, Teresa. Plants in pots are more susceptible to damage, especially if their roots freeze.

  2. Cheryl lee says:

    I’ve cut my giant okra back to about a foot tall stalks. Some are like tree trunks about 1-2 innings diameter.
    Will they regenerate next year or do I need to get American strongest man to pull them up?
    Can I put much over the very full strawberry bed

    • Paul James says:

      Cheryl, you might want to call the strongman. Okra is done for the year. And yes, you can mulch your strawberries.

  3. What about potted plants? Different story?

  4. jilliwilli says:

    The photo is a perfect rendering of my face upon hearing the weather forecast after spending $40 on new mums for my planters earlier in the day–oh well. That’s fall in Oklahoma.

  5. Becky Wiggins says:

    Thanks Paul for all the great info! We are dropping in Georgia for the next 4 days into the high 30’s to low 40’s and then will bounce back to the mid-50’s after that. I really don’t want to bring my plants in yet. I usually leave them out until late November.

  6. Deb Hendel says:

    We moved to Park Hill in May. When is it too late to plant shrubs or trees, AND do you think all the bulbs I’ve invested in are going to rot with all this rain? I have 2 boxes of Asiatic lilies to plant. But my tulips and daffs I got in right before all this rain. I’m thinking they are lost? What do you think?

    • Paul James says:

      Your bulbs should be fine. I wouldn’t worry about them at all. And you can continue to plant trees and shrubs through November.

  7. Andy Hale says:

    As you said at the last presentation "doing nothing is one of your favorite things in the garden". Or I hope I quoted you correctly? Anyway, now is my time to not freak out about the leaves falling on my young fescue seedlings which if it ever stops raining are ready to mow "High" while mulching that beautiful composting leaf material back into the soil. Love your blog.
    Andy in the Hills