El Niño isn’t just a west coast phenomenon. The weather pattern meteorologists are calling “Godzilla” is predicted to impact a wide stretch of the country including Texas. For our clients in the greater Dallas and Fort Worth area, this most likely means additional bouts of higher-than-average rainfall and temperatures colder than normal at least through February.
The chill combined with wet conditions will impact our gardens, both positively and negatively.
On the positive side, critically important water reservoirs will remain full and subsurface water tables are being recharged. Additionally, the colder weather will help to lessen overwintering pests and provide the needed rest period for many of our garden plants.
However, there may very well be challenges associated with this unusual weather pattern. To help your garden thrive during this El Niño winter, here are eight suggestions from our “garden preparedness” tool kit:
• During hard freeze events, cover tender plants with frost cloths, disconnect hoses, protect faucets and small fountains, turn off sprinklers, etc.
• Prune trees and shrubs, as needed, during their winter dormancy to remove deadwood, eliminate unwanted and/or unhealthy branches. Now is also the time to perform corrective pruning functions for plants that have grown beyond their space or to reestablish desired shapes. Two important reminders; delay pruning spring-flowering shrubs and vines until immediately after flowering and don’t “top” crape myrtle trees.
• Prune evergreen trees such as magnolias and live oaks and large evergreen shrubs to minimize possible ice damage.
• Clean up and remove garden debris to eliminate overwintering areas for pests, insects and diseases. Remember, horticultural oil applications are very effective in controlling those stubborn overwintering insects such as scale. Follow label directions and don’t spray if temperatures are below 45°.
• Topdress beds for improved spring performance by adding organic materials such as compost. Additionally, add a rich layer of organic mulch throughout the garden to help insulate roots against cold temperatures, reduce weed germination, improve soil tilth and fertility and of course – improve the appearance of the garden.
• Continue to supply winter color plantings with granular organic fertilizer and foliar feedings as needed to promote heath, vigor and flower production. Feed trees and large shrubs (especially new, struggling and/or construction impacted plants) via root zone fertilization injections.
• Clean all gutters and landscape drains during and after fall leaf drop. Additionally, note areas of the garden that are slow to drain and consider adding surface and underground drain systems to remove excess water. If sump pumps are already employed in your garden to drain excess rainfall, make sure they are serviced and in top working condition.
• Re-adjust irrigation systems for cooler weather and increased precipitation rates to conserve water, prevent nutrients from being leached out of the soil and to discourage excess water related diseases. Another important reminder however; if rainfall is not expected, irrigate the garden prior to all freeze events to reduce damage. Soil moisture is nature’s root insulator.