December 5th, 2009
Hard Freeze

Cosmos sulphureus
2009-12-05. Cosmos sulphureus frozen after last night’s hard freeze in Austin.

Dateline: 2009

2009-12-05. Per the Weather Underground: Bouldin station. Hard freeze (28°F or below) from 2AM-8:30AM. Freeze 9:30PM-9:15AM

I felt giddy and full of energy today because of (rather than despite) the hard freeze last night which laid to rest half my garden for the year. The garden was full of fresh greenery and bursting with flowers from this year’s weekly fall rains. My regret at seeing so much die back or die outright lasted only while I took my inventory. What I felt instead was freedom and a sense of new possibilities.

Zanthan Gardens didn’t get a hard freeze at all last year. Back in 2006, I was ready to start the year afresh and wishing that last year’s annuals would Just Die Already. The worst kind of winter we can have in Austin is mild in December and January followed by a big winter storm in February or even March. By then, you’ve spent countless hours covering and uncovering plants and bringing pots in and taking them out again. You’ve babied the garden and pulled it through a few light frost or short freezes and then, wham! an ice storm.

So if Austin is going to have a hard freeze at all this winter, I’m glad it was the first winter storm and not the last one of the season. As @AnnieinAustin remarked, “better swallowed by whale than nibbled to death by minnows!”

Now I can really look forward to my spring garden. It helps that the pecan and persimmon trees dropped all their leaves in a matter of hours. (Quite a few Austinites tweeted about this phenomenon this morning.) The front yard is back to being in full sun and I can transplant my larkspur seedlings. The Port St. Johns creeper which smothered the back fence, the grape, a ‘New Dawn’ rose, and a stand of yucca can be pulled out.

I’m still assessing the damage so I’ll be updating this list. Sometimes, it takes several days for freeze damage to become apparent.

basil, cosmos, datura, tomato

Damage on some growth
aloe vera, amaryllis, jalapeño, Meyer lemon (covered), Salvia madrensis (covered),
Meyer lemon
2009-12-05. Although frost tolerant to 22°F, the Meyer lemon showed damaged to new, tender growth even though it was covered.

Died back
fig, banana trees, coral vine, cypress vine, duranta, elephant ears, kalanchoe, Port St. Johns creeper, purple Wandering Jew, turks cap,

Not affected
asparagus fern, cilantro, larkspur, lavender, love-in-a-mist, oregano, parsley, roses, sage (culinary and Jerusalem), sweet alyssum, snapdragons,

Dateline: 2002

When I wake up this morning, there is frost on the ground, finally. We’ve been getting freeze warnings since Christmas Eve. I don’t know whether it is the warming effect of the central city, or the siting of the winter garden on the sunny, protected south side of the house, but until last night even the basil remained green and the tomatoes were still flowering (though not setting fruit).

Now I look out the window and see that the eggplant has blackened and the elephant ears are wilted by the frost. As the sun hits the frozen plants, still rigid and green, the damage becomes more apparent. The shattered cells dissolve into a mass of blackened green. The garden looks like it’s been decorated with large blobs of cooked spinach .

basil, tomato, hyacinth bean vine, broom corn

Damage on new growth
rose, aurelia japonica

Died back
Tecoma stans, polka-dot plant, eggplant, Mexican heather, purple Wandering Jew, lantana, daylilies, purple fountain grass

Not affected
Dianthus chinensis, larkspur, bluebonnet, love-in-a-mist, iris, artemisia

by M Sinclair Stevens

15 Responses to post “Hard Freeze”

  1. From Pam/Digging:

    What I’m excited about is that I can start some garden projects in the lower garden that I’ve put off because of the mosquito infestation back there. Now they’re dead. Hallelujah!

    I hope the mosquitoes are dead and not just hiding in the mulch. — mss

  2. From Iris/Society Garlic:

    I’m with you and Annie (great whale/minnow quote!) re early hard freeze, so we know where things stand until March. I managed to save a bit of basil and jalapeno, so I’m going to continue to cover them at night for a few weeks. (I’m probably a glutton for punishment to even try it, but I was able to rig the cover fabric so it’s pretty easy to maneuver.)

    My oregano, parsley, cilantro, dill, thyme (all covered overnight), and rosemary are fine, too. I’m amazed the miniature ‘Red Cascade’ rose came through just fine with no cover–very cool.

    You probably don’t need to cover the cilantro. Like bluebonnets it’s an overwintering annual. We have so much of it this year and it is quite large so I wondered if that would make a difference. It didn’t. It looked frozen solid and when it defrosted, it was fine. I was surprised that neither the flowers on ‘Red Cascade’ or ‘Ducher’ seemed bothered by the freeze. I’ll have to wait a couple of days to see whether the buds are frozen and won’t open. — mss

  3. From Eric Hegwer:

    Yep, My basil, which lasted late, late, late into the season, didn’t make it through the frozen night.

    My basil is gone, even the thin-leaved kind which often is more cold hardy. — mss

  4. From Jan:

    We still haven’t had a freeze yet, so tender plants are still hanging in there. I have to agree with you about wanting a killing frost early in winter rather than in late February or March. It is so frustrating after working to keep plants alive with minor freezes to have them killed just about the time it is going to warm up, and they could have made it into spring.

    Always Growing

    Exactly. I’ve had such mild winters sometimes that even a tomato has pulled through. But I don’t think it was worth the effort of spending all winter coddling it. — mss

  5. From Mr. McGregor's Daughter:

    That’s a good way to look at it. There is something cleansing about a hard freeze. It also makes the gardener appreciate those tough flowers like Sweet Alyssum and Snapdragons that shrug it all off.

    After all the fall rain, the garden really had an overgrown, wild look. I couldn’t bear to pull out plants that were still flowering but I really wanted to get the overwintering annuals planted. Now I can. — mss

  6. From Joseph Tychonievich:

    It is so weird to me reading this post! I’ve got snow on the ground, and hoping wondering if we’ll have a good, insulating snow cover once the temperatures drop below zero. I love reading blogs in other climates — so strange to think about sometimes not getting a hard freeze at all! But I totally agree: I love the cleansing, fresh state aspect of winter. All my screw ups from the year before are wiped away and I’ve a fresh start ahead of me.

    For southern gardeners there is no rest for the weary. The garden is demanding in all seasons. In fact, our winters are quite busy. Between freezes we have many warm days. And this is the best time of year for planting perennials and trees so they can settle in a bit before our harsh summer. And yet it is not a tropical delight here. Although we may have days in the 70s and 80s they are followed by days in the 20s. Plants don’t go dormant and are more vulnerable to these sudden freezes. Thus the flurry of panic before every winter storm. –mss

  7. From ESP, Austin:

    Yes I agree, no moaning here at the ESP, right there with Pam on the mosquito culling front…the sheer luxury of being outside and not feeling light headed due to the loss of blood factor will be a novelty!

    I welcomed this hard freeze. Like you I lost a good chunk of the garden, but there is something really satisfying in the cleanup / cutback phase, bringing the garden into a true “winter minimalist state”…a purging of sorts. And yes, sooner is better than later for this in my opinion.

    Like you my irritating pecans, and oh yes, they are quite irritating, dropped pretty fast though I am waiting for the few remaining leaves to fall before I do the annual mass leaf clean-up. My scrappy Pecan trees are for the chop next year…although I say that every year.

    I do a big clearing at the end of spring and try to go into summer with a minimalist landscape. Winter in my yard is very green and sunny. But it is the time I rearrange the structure of the garden (which moves around quite a bit each year). It is not, as in most gardens set in the stone of hardscaping. This is both a problem and a delight. I will be cutting back and shaping some big plants like the duranta and the Port St. Johns creeper which have overgrown their space. I was happy to see the freeze cut them both down to size for me. — mss

  8. From Jean, Louisiana:

    Ha, I am so with you on getting an early freeze. There’s real freedom in it, isn’t there? It does seem very early for this part of the world but I’m okay with that. I do hope your Meyer lemon pulls through (I ended up putting mine in the house, hoping it will bloom and spread its fragrance; we’ll see).

    I’m looking forward to clearing away one season so I can begin the next…now if only it would stop drizzling so I could get out there. — mss

  9. From Nancy, Fort Worth:

    You are so right about “getting it over with” during the hard freeze. Out with the old! I hope the peonies will have a great bloom next spring if we have several good freezes. Also, maybe the bulbs won’t come up too early.

    Yes, out with the old. I like change in the garden. I get bored when it looks the same too much. –mss

  10. From Yolanda Elizabet:

    A hard freeze in Austin? Good grief, we haven’t had a light frost yet this month. We had a few last september but that was pretty much it. So far.

    Ha, liked the whale and minnows thingy very much and do agree wholeheartedly. Must be my Catholic upbringing. 😉

  11. From Jenny Austin:

    I sometimes forget that Austin really has a winter. Now I remember. Nothing left to cover this year. I fear I will have lost a lot of plants this year because it got very cold out here. Still, undaunted, I can now look at a clean slate and get busy planning. What would we do without those hardy annuals. I love Annie’s quote- but I still don’t want a frost in April.

  12. From Dee/reddirtramblings:

    MSS, I feel exactly the same way. All that lingering and work and then wham! So, this is much better, although I didn’t get all my plants pulled into safety. That’s the way it goes.~~Dee

  13. From Kathy (New York):

    Funny how your reaction changes depending on when you get a certain temperature in your garden. We were quite spoiled by our mild November, and normal winter temperatures seem especially chilly.

  14. From Linda Lehmusvirta Austin Texas:

    What a beautiful cosmos picture–lovely even in decline. And I agree: I’m glad we got this one early. It’s energizing to clean up and see what bulbs are coming up under summer’s bounty. Interesting year: first the plants suffer drought and heat, and then get blasted with hard freeze. It gives us a chance to take inventory on what plants can handle both.

  15. From Amy (Austin):

    A whole month later, I’m finally getting around to writing some notes from my fall gardening and reading of others’ experiences. I’m totally with everyone; you’ve voiced my feelings exactly. I was actually getting tired of the super flowery cosmos and basil and hyacinth bean, etc. and feeling guilty about wanting to cut them back so there was room for spring dreaming and germinating, and then wham!–the freeze did it. My only disappointment was the death of all my Texas red sage, which I know is tender but has made it through 3 winters. It fills in a lot of my shade. Surprisingly, my Meyer lemon in a pot is doing fine. Like you I gave up moving it in and out, and this year I gave up covering it, and although it’s spotty-leafed it has made it through 3 freezes now.

    But what a year of extremes for us! I kinda like it, keeps me changing in the garden.

    Perhaps, like in the Tarot, when we’re dealt the Death card we should look on it as an agent of/opportunity for change. — mss