Preparing for the Frost
By Jesse Eastman
Owner and General Manager of Fort Collins Nursery
With the first hard freeze of autumn early here, it’s time to double-check and make sure your yard is prepared. It is easy to prevent the damage a freeze causes, but you must act quickly. Here are some tips to help prioritize your time:
- Shut Down & Protect Irrigation
Freezing water wreaks havoc on pipes. Shut off in-ground irrigation, drain it, and have it blown out. Many landscaping companies offer fall blowout service. Make sure your drip system is disconnected and drained. Don’t forget to disconnect hoses from spigots.
- Drain Concrete Fountains & Bird Baths
Drain them completely before freezing weather to prevent cracking. Make sure they are completely empty (even the pump) and allow them time to dry. Move them indoors if possible, but if they must remain outside, cover them with a tarp and put a towel in the bowl to absorb any condensation that once they’re covered. Give them plenty of time to fully dry before the first freeze, as moisture can absorb into the surface of concrete fountains and freezing and thawing causes damp surfaces to flake and crumble.
- Move or Protect Annuals & Vegetables
Most annuals and veggies will not survive extreme freezes (anything below 25 degrees). Bring annuals and vegetables in containers indoors and harvest any remaining vegetables before the freeze. Harvest tomato plants and hang them up to allow nearly-ripe fruit to ripen. Protect late-season annuals and veggies in the ground using frost cloth or season extenders (aka Wall-O-Waters). In extreme cold (as expected this week), covering plants might not be enough and it may be time to concede to mother nature (it is always worth a shot though, as the frost is often not as severe as originally forecast). Cold hardy annuals like pansies can survive temperatures down to 20 degrees or less and should be fine if covered. Bring tender houseplants indoors, but treat for pests first (more info here).
- Water the Landscape
Plants fare hard freezes much better when their roots are in moist soil. Before you pack up the hose, give your trees, shrubs, and perennials a quick watering the day before the cold sets in, just don’t oversaturate.
- Prepare Trees & Shrubs
Established trees and shrubs shouldn’t need protection – they may suffer mild frost damage to leaves, but this aesthetic damage shouldn’t compromise their health. However, many trees and shrubs are still holding leaves and the additional weight of snow can cause branches and limbs to break. Be prepared to gently shake heavy snow off trees and shrubs. Do not vigorously shake trees or hit branches with sticks or brooms – in cold weather limbs become brittle, increasing the risk of breakage. Pick ripened fruit from your trees. Apply tree wrap to young trees susceptible to sunscald. Tree wrap and rose collars should be applied before Thanksgiving but can be applied now.
Bring potted blooming perennials (like mums) indoors to keep them looking good a little longer. For in-ground perennials that are still blooming, either cut back plants and use the flowers in a bouquet or simply leave them be. Top growth will likely die back in extremely cold temperatures but will grow back next year. You can try covering blooming perennials, but with the current forecast, it might be too cold to prevent dieback.
Winterize your lawn, trees, and shrubs with a winterizer fertilizer. Autumn moisture helps your landscape take advantage of the fertilizer to prepare for next spring.
- Pumpkins, Squash, & Gourds
Bring all your decorative fall pumpkins, squash & gourds indoors. They will not be able to hold up to a freeze.