First Freeze Reminder: Plants Pets Pipes Need Protection

John Grymes, Merrill, Thomas A., Gill, Daniel J., Nicholson, Steven S., Owings, Allen D.  |  10/10/2006 1:54:24 AM

News Release Distributed 11/24/2003

Note: The comments and preparation strategies contained in this story will be applicable for the season’s first freeze tonight and for subsequent freezing conditions.

The state’s first freezing temperatures of the year are a reminder that plants, pets and pipes must be protected from the harsh conditions of winter, according to experts in the LSU AgCenter.

The National Weather Service issued a freeze warning for much of the state Monday – with temperatures expected to dip below freezing from the I-10/I-12 corridor northward.

"This definitely is the first freeze of year for the state, and for many people, it’s the first freeze since last February or so," LSU AgCenter climatologist Jay Grymes said Monday morning (Nov. 24). "That means people need to start thinking now about what to do to protect pets, plants and pipes this season."

Grymes said pipes probably aren’t a concern yet but that pets and plants definitely need to be cared for any time freezing temperatures are encountered.

The National Weather Service forecast called for temperatures in the mid-20s over the northern portion of the state and around 30 in the Southwest overnight Monday.

"It appears the parishes south of the lakes – Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain – probably will be spared," Grymes said. "But we’re still seeing predictions of temperatures at or below freezing for six hours or so in North Louisiana and a little less – three to four hours – as you move further south."

Grymes said those problems are further complicated by the fact that predictions of temperatures are based on the temperature 4-5 feet above the ground – which means plants or pets at ground level would suffer from even lower temperatures.

"Under clear skies like we’re having, temperatures at ground level could be 4-5 degrees below what’s predicted for 4-5 feet above ground," Grymes said. "So that means we could see temperatures below freezing at ground level for at least 6-8 hours in North Louisiana and 5-6 hours as you move further south."

Forecasts called for the current freeze to be short-lived – only one night at this point – but the experts say it’s likely Louisianans will need to prepare for such temperatures at least a few more times this winter.

"While most plants in our landscapes are completely winter hardy, some of us have tender plants in the ground or in outdoor containers that need our help when freezing temperatures come our way." said LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dan Gill about one aspect to be considered in preparing for the cold.

Such plants – which are native to tropical regions of the world where it never freezes – do not have the ability to protect themselves from sub-freezing temperatures. Among the common plants that fit into that category are hibiscus, tibouchina, firebush, bird-of-paradise, bananas, gingers, palms, ixora, philodendrons, pentas and oleander.

LSU AgCenter horticulturists say protecting such plants involves a variety of possibilities.

There are several ways to protect ornamental plants from winter conditions, including properly mulching, watering, covering and providing artificial heat to plants," said LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. Allen Owings.

But the choice may also be not to protect plants at all.

"Even though these plants need protection in order to survive, you’ll actually want to consider whether you want to make the effort to protect everything that’s ‘tender’ in your landscape," Gill said, explaining, "For plants growing in the ground that are readily available in nurseries and not too expensive to replace, you could just decide to replant them later this spring if you lose them.

"I put plants such as pentas, lantana, Mexican heather, begonias, impatiens, blue daze and coleus in this category."

Other advice on protecting plants provided by LSU AgCenter horticulturists includes:

–Consider moving container plants indoors, or at least take down hanging baskets and move all container plants to a somewhat protected outdoor area such as the cover of a carport, patio or large tree.

–Mulching landscape plants with pine straw or leaves insulates the lower part of a plant and its root system and increases its chance of survival.

–Plants can be covered with plastic, canvas or fabric. But ensure you use stakes or cages as a framework so the weight of the cover doesn’t damage the plant. And be sure the cover extends all the way to the ground – to trap heat and keep wind out. You may even want to secure to bottom of the cover with rocks, bricks or soil to keep air from blowing in.

–Be sure to remove or vent covers during the day if the weather is sunny and mild. Otherwise, the heat buildup under the cover may do even more damage to the plants.

–For severe freezes or prolonged temperatures below freezing, providing a heat source under the cover improves protection. One of the safest and easiest methods is to wrap or drape the plant with strings of small outdoor Christmas lights. Not enough heat is generated to damage the plant, but what heat is given off by the small bulbs can make a big difference in the survival of a plant. Just make sure you use outdoor extension cords.

–Wetting the foliage of plants immediately prior to a freeze does not provide any protection, but it is important that plants are not drought-stressed going into a freeze. If the weather has been dry, thoroughly water plants in the ground and in containers early in the day when a freeze is predicted for that night.

As for your pets, they also need warm, dry shelter and plenty of food and water.

"Make sure pets have a place to get out of the cold or to protect themselves from the wind," said LSU AgCenter veterinarian Dr. Steve Nicholson. "You may want to consider temporarily bringing outdoor pets inside or giving them access to a garage or storage room for the night."

Experts warn to be cautious that pets won’t have access to toxic substances, such as antifreeze, when you allow them into temporary quarters.


Jay Grymes at
Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or
Steve Nicholson at (225) 578-2414 or
Allen Owings at (225) 578-2222 or
Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or

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