What do we do in our garden after a hard freeze?  

As a group we are all eager to get started repairing, refreshing and rearranging our gardens. But we keep hearing that we should not cut off dead brown material from our plants until the threat of freeze is over.

Madalene Hill used to say that many plants died during winter from lack of water rather than freezing weather. Just because things look brown on top, don’t forget to water at least once a week if we don’t have a significant amount of rain. You will be surprised at how many herbs and plants will pop up again from their roots once the weather warms. Patience is indeed a virtue, perhaps especially in gardening.

But how long must we wait? Well, that depends on the plant, tree or herb. You can do the fingernail test to see what’s still alive by scratching a bit off the stem or stalk to see if there is any green underneath. You can wait until shoots start appearing at ground level and if no more freezes are expected, clip back to new growth. Or you can just plain wait.

Kathy Huber, Donna Buchanan and I agree it’s safe to cut gingers back to the ground immediately following the freeze. They will be easier to mulch if another freeze does comes our way and you can satisfy your urge to get rid of dead brown material. Gingers will pretty readily sprout back up when things warm up.

Water the ground well to protect your herbs before a hard freeze. You should have already mulched everything in your garden before winter sets in. Use freeze cloth or sheets to cover herbs, securing the edges with rocks or bricks to make sure they don’t blow off during the night. Do not immediately water plants with frost or frozen foliage once the weather warms as this can cause more damage than the freeze itself.​


An example of the benefits of waiting a long time comes to mind when I think of my first huge philodendron. I named him Phil, as in Phil O. Dendron. This was the early 70’s and I was surrounded by creative types while studying fine art at the University of Houston.  The name fit and Phil spent his early days with me in an art gallery on Fairview and then in another cooperative art gallery in downtown Houston. Phil could light up a room with his large cheerful leaves. Eventually he came home with me for good. Where is Phil now? He’s living in Bellaire, waiting to burst forth again.

In 1989 Phil was in a large redwood planter when I moved to a second floor apartment in the Heights. He was too big to come upstairs so I covered him snugly before the hard freeze, to no avail. I mourned leaving him outside to freeze, but I didn’t give up on him. It was May before he sprouted out again, much to my relief. You see, I had also struggled to protect him during Hurricane Alicia in 1983. After several “hurricane parties” which usually involved a blender and tequila, I realized Phil had to come inside. He was getting battered on the deck. It was quite the chore to move him in once the winds were howling outside, but we made it to safety. He was happy to stay inside until spring since it was bitterly cold just before Christmas 1983.

For those of you interested in connecting hurricanes to years of hard freezes, you may remember the following hurricane dates: Alicia: 8-18-83; Gilbert: 9-17-88 and Ike: 9-13-08. There does seem to be a pattern of unusually hard winters after these events. And here we are immediately following Hurricane Harvey.  Coincidence?  We have had hard freezes absent a hurricane event, but there certainly does seem to be a bit of a correlation.

Please remember to water your gardens and be patient. Spring is just around the corner.


Modified from an article submitted by Susan Wood


Freeze Response - Water or Wait?  Prune or Be Patient?