Growing Herbs in Texas: Frozen Garden Care

| 12/17/2009 11:50:38 AM


Cynthia Meredith has been gardening with herbs, reading about herbs, and discussing herb gardening in Texas for more than 20 years. She has owned The Herb Cottage ( for over 10 years, selling herb plants to people all over our state. 

Winter has set in a bit early this year, it seems. We've had snow in south Texas—although not at The Herb Cottage—sleet, a hard freeze, and generally cold and damp weather. While it did not snow here at The Herb Cottage, the temperature did dip to about 26 degrees for a few hours one morning and lots of landscape plants froze. I now have droopy passion vines on the fence, melted nasturtiums and frozen podrangea vine. Various hibiscus, Texas olive (Cordia boissieri) and henna (Lawsonia inermis), among other plants, are also frozen. Most succulents that were left out have frozen, too. 

frozen passion vine
Frozen passion vines hanging on the fence.

Because so much in the landscape froze, the appearance of the yard area is very poor. The question now is "to prune or not to prune"? I know the prevailing wisdom is not to prune until later in the winter, when the cold weather is less likely to continue. The reason behind this is that during an extended warm spell this winter new growth will start where branches were pruned. And then another hard freeze would damage or kill the new growth, and may harm the plant.  

nasturtiums 1
Nasturtiums a couple of weeks ago.

nasturtiums 2
Nastutiums today. Look at the little ones underneath that survived.

Actually it depends on the plant, whether it is considered a true perennial where the tops "always" die off or whether it is an evergreen, which normally keeps its foliage. My Texas star hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus) is a true perennial. The branches always freeze back at first frost. I cut them back to about 4 inches above ground level, mulch the crown and by mid spring the plant is putting out new shoots. The same is usually true for the Mexican mint marigold (Tagates lucida). I am surprised that it didn't freeze yet, however, and still has fresh leaves on it. 

The tender evergreens, which in my yard, include esperanza (Tecoma stans), vitex tree (Vitex agnus-castus) and henna, have all frozen. I will not prune the esperanza or the vitex at all because new foliage will appear on old wood. And it did not get cold enough to damage most of the wood on either plant. The dead wood at the tips of the branches, if there is any, will help insulate the plants from further damage during other freezes this winter. In the spring when new growth has started, I will be able to see where the freeze damage is and prune it off at that time. 

frozen esperenza
Frozen esperenza.

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