Cold weather protection advice from LSU AgCenter experts

Tobie Blanchard, Morgan, Johnny W.

It’s official — winter is here! And with it comes many questions about protecting landscape plants, pipes and pets during the cold months.

LSU AgCenter professionals say one sound piece of advice is to pay attention to the weather forecasts and try to know a couple days ahead of time when freezing weather is approaching.

Carol Friedland, director of the LSU AgCenter LaHouse Home and Landscape Resource Center, gives these tips to homeowners:

— When temperatures are below freezing, running one faucet with a small trickle of water can prevent water freezing in your pipes.

— Wrap your outdoor faucets with at least an inch of fiberglass or foam sleeves and secure that with tape or foil to prevent freezing. If you can’t find materials to wrap your faucets, household objects like old newspapers or rags can also protect your faucets.

— Even though it is common, using a gas stove or oven to heat your home can be dangerous and should be avoided.

— If you lose power, stay near the interior parts of a home. If you use a generator temporarily, never use one indoors, in your garage or under a carport.

When protecting plants, start by prepping your tropical and cold-sensitive potted plants, said AgCenter horticulturist Heather Kirk-Ballard.

“If temperatures begin to drop into the 30s, you need to get them indoors, in your garage, carport or protected in the corner of a patio,” she said.

If you decide to move your plants indoors, watering needs will drop dramatically. Water once a week or when the plants begin to wilt slightly, she said.

“This helps reduce chances of fungal disease and insect damage. Fungus gnats love rotting roots that have succumbed to saturated potting soils growing fungus. Avoid this by letting the soil dry out before watering again,” she said.

For landscape plants, thoroughly water them before a freeze if the soil is dry. This is especially important for container-grown plants.

Shrubs in landscape beds also can be helped with irrigation prior to a freeze.

Keep in mind that your cool-season bedding plants are adapted to the cold temperatures that are normal in Louisiana during winter, so cold protection typically is not needed for them.

For plants growing in the ground, mulch them with a loose, dry material such as pine straw or leaves.

Mulches will only protect what they cover and are best used to protect below-ground parts and crowns.

Larger plants can be protected by creating a simple structure and covering it with sheets, quilts or plastic.

The structure holds the covering off the foliage, preventing broken branches and improving cold protection. It need be nothing more elaborate than driving into the ground three stakes slightly taller than the plant. The cover should extend to the ground and be sealed with soil, stones or bricks. Plastic covers should be vented or removed on sunny, warm days.

For severe freezes when temperatures dip into the teens, providing a heat source under the covering helps. A safe, easy way to do this is to generously wrap or drape the plant with small outdoor Christmas lights. The lights provide heat but do not get hot enough to burn the plant or cover. Be careful to use only outdoor extension cords and sockets. If necessary, you may prune back a large plant to make its size more practical to cover.

Visit LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (Louisiana Highway 30) in Baton Rouge across the street from the LSU baseball stadium. For more information, go to

Blueberry bushes used for research at the LSU AgCenter Hill Farm Horticulture Teaching Facilities and University Gardens were covered with weather protection cloth ahead of a dip in temperatures. Photo by Kiki Fontenot

1/9/2024 5:48:47 PM
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