Freezing Temperatures in Austin by Paul Rutowski

Example of a freeze damaged St. Augustine Grass

Example of a freeze damaged St. Augustine Grass

What happens to our landscape when freezing temperatures come to Austin?

The winter of 2013-14 is an aberration to those with short term memory.  It evidently has brought us multiple freezing temperatures.  Leading to several school cancellations and delays. Those who have been around quite some time know that this is not unprecedented.  It has happened in the past, to some extremes.  Fortunately, those deep freezes come in far and between.  This is why we need to remind ourselves over time and time again.

What does this mean to you from the landscape perspective?   Here are a few things:

PLANTS: If you happen to have non-native plants.  Chances are that it did not survive this year's winter.   Tropical plants such as palm trees, aloes and pretty much any plants that like to store water inside (cacti, succulents, etc) may either freeze to death or will need to be cut off to the root.  It may or may not survive depending on how it has been exposed to the elements.  Hint: Plants that stick up in the middle of the lawn is more susceptible to wind freezes than those located in corners or around barricades such as larger plants, buildings or even boulders. This is why you see some homeowners wrap blankets around some plants.

GRASS: The grass that is most likely to be affected by deep freezes happens to be the most popular grass in Austin.  The St. Augustine variety.  Is St. Augustine grass native to Austin?  NO. It is actually from Africa.  It has been known that the St. Augustine grass variety has succumbed to arctic cold fronts in the past.  If this is the case, you may want to consider making the changeover to a Xeriscape solution.  If you really, really love turf grass, consider the Bermuda variety if you expect foot traffic.  If little or no foot traffic (such as front yards, display areas, etc) consider the Buffalo Grass. 

Rule of thumb:  Always choose native plants and specimens for the Austin area.  They have proven themselves over time that they belong here regardless of what happens to our annual weather patterns.  They will come back and thrive.  At the same time, they are usually disease free and virtually maintenance free if done right.  

More often than not, homeowners purchase homes that come with existing landscape that is already installed either by the home builder or the previous homeowners.  You may want to consider both a short and long term plan to make the transition from a thirsty and demanding lawn into a drought tolerant and low maintenance lawn in phases.  It is never an overnight accomplishment.

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