The winter solstice, the first official winter day, December 21, is still over a month away. But in freezing temperatures around the corner, the experts at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service have tips on how to protect your plants, pipes and pets.
Many areas in the Texas Plains and North Texas have already seen the first freezing temperatures, but much of the state’s average first frost date is over mid-November. Planning and preparing before the temperatures drop below freezing is the best way not to be surprised.
Frost and frost can damage or kill exposed plants, especially those in containers, said Lisa Whittlesey, a horticultural program specialist at AgriLife Extension, Bryan-College Station. The damage can vary greatly depending on the type of plant, so plants that are sensitive to the cold need more protection than more resistant plants.
Plants in containers are more prone to sub-zero temperatures because they lack the insulation that the soil provides. They should be transported inside the house or garage – anywhere temperatures stay above freezing.
If potted plants cannot be brought into the house, place them on the south side of the house, water them well, and pile up mulch, leaves or hay to protect the roots and / or cover them with a blanket of frost. Landscape plants that are sensitive to the cold can also be covered with a similar protection.
AgriLife Extension offers a comprehensive approach to protecting landscaped plants and horticultural crops from frost and frost.
When you cover plants, drape them on the ground with cardboard or cloth material and secure them, she said. The idea is to trap enough warmer air that escapes from the soil to protect plants from a deadly frost.
Hanging Christmas lights around delicate plants and covering them with tarpaulin can provide protection from light frost, she said.
Watering plants and making sure they aren’t stressed out from drought before freezing temperatures come in can help, Whittlesey said. Pouring just before freezing can also be helpful, as water creates heat and slowly loses heat.
“Drought-stressed plants are more susceptible to the cold,” she said. “And if you can’t get a plant in, the best thing to do is cover it and remember to put it in a place with lots of sunlight and water it.”
When it comes to frost damage to homes, protecting exposed pipes is critical when temperatures drop below freezing. AgriLife Extension provided tips on how to prevent and thaw frozen pipes in bad weather.
Joel Pigg, AgriLife Expansion Program Specialist and Texas Well Owner Network Coordinator, Bryan-College Station, said homeowners should now protect pipes around the home or in well houses in good weather.
“It is best to act early, as if the storm is coming,” he said. “Prepare now, because supplies of insulation and parts could be limited during a rush for items needed to protect pipes just before sub-zero temperatures hit.”
Water pipes can freeze and burst when the outside temperature reaches 20 degrees or below, but Pigg said precautions should always be taken when temperatures drop below freezing. North-facing pipes are exposed to an increased risk of frost.
Exposed pipes, including outdoor fittings, water sprinklers, water pipes in basements, crawl spaces, attics or garages, pipes that run along outside walls, swimming pool supply lines and well houses are particularly susceptible to freezing temperatures.
Outdoor water systems should be drained and covered or slowly drained to protect against damage, he said.
Water pipe insulation products such as sleeves, insulation, or heating tape should be applied to exposed water pipes. Many products are available from local plumbing stores. Newspapers can also provide some protection to exposed pipes as long as exposure is not prolonged.
Foam faucet covers also provide protection for a frost-prone area, he said.
“Covers cost about $ 4 and insulation or heat tape is very cheap compared to the cost of repair,” he said. “Adding protective elements to weak points is a good investment against short-term freezes.”
At longer events, keeping the water running easily helps and heat lamps to raise temperatures in less insulated rooms with pipes like well houses or basements can help prevent breakages, he said.
“Insulating exposed pipes is great protection for a few hours in sub-zero temperatures, but draining pipes around the house is easy, and draining pipes to each well head is a good idea if the freezing point is going on for a long time,” he said. “Winter storm Uri was an exception. Weeks of sub-zero temperatures and rolling power outages have only made the problems for many Texans worse. “
Pet owners should be prepared to protect their animals from cold temperatures, said Lori Teller, DVM, Clinical Associate Professor of Telemedicine at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Breed, age, and health are important factors in dogs, and getting a pet used to temperatures is also a consideration for pets, she said. Younger and older dogs or dogs with health problems may be more sensitive to cold temperatures.
“There is really no such thing as a worrying set temperature. A young adult husky can handle the cold much better than an older Chihuahua, ”Teller said. “But very young and much older pets don’t tolerate the weather well, so I would recommend talking to a veterinarian who can provide pet-specific advice.”
Shivering is a good first indicator of a cold animal, while decreased alertness or “looks” compared to normal behavior can indicate hypothermia, Teller said. She said sweaters can help insulate animals that are sensitive to the cold and ankle boots, or paw wax can help protect their feet from ice and snow.
Pets such as cats and dogs, even if they are used to the outdoors, need access to a well-insulated shelter to keep them dry and a source of unfrozen water. A dog house with no cracks or loose boards, lined with hay or blankets, or with access to the garage or shed, can protect them from the elements.
“The key is that the room is well insulated from wind and rain and has good beds,” she said. “If the bedding gets wet from rain or snow, it should be replaced.”
Teller said she doesn’t recommend using heat lamps outdoors to keep animals warm as they pose a risk of electric shock and fire. A water bottle of hot water that is wrapped in a blanket and placed in the bedding can provide extra warmth for a few hours.
Animals also need access to fresh, non-frozen water, she said. Heated water bowls can reduce the need to handle frozen water.
Pets that spend more time outdoors burn more calories to stay warm and may need extra food to meet their energy needs, Teller said.
“Hounds and outdoor dogs that come at night may use more energy to stay warm and need extra calories,” she said. “But a couch potato dog that walks regularly will be fine.”
A paper from the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences answers the question “How cold is too cold?” when it comes to pets and other recommendations for winter weather protection.
Other potential hazards for pets in winter
Teller said pet owners should be aware of a few additional winter hazards when it comes to dogs and cats.
Predicting a cat’s preferred outdoor shelter is difficult, but Teller said one location – a car’s warm engine block – can pose a hazard. She recommends a few hard blows on the hood of the vehicle to make sure any sleeping cat leaves the room before starting the car.
Antifreeze is highly toxic and can be fatal to cats and dogs, even in small amounts. Spilled material should be cleaned up thoroughly as it will be ingested by dogs and cats. Another poison risk is the increased use of rodent bait in the house, as rats and mice seek protection from freezing temperatures. Prevent access to these poisons as they can be deadly to pets.
Salts, as well as snow and ice melt products, can irritate pets’ paws and, if ingested, cause hypersalivation and vomiting, Teller said.
Backyard chickens also need protection
For backyard chicken producers, Craig Coufal, Ph.D., poultry specialist at AgriLife Extension, Bryan-College Station said that well-feathered birds should be fine in temperatures just above freezing, but need shelter from the cold. Temperatures around or below freezing point can cause frostbite to toes and honeycomb.
Coufal said having an enclosed structure protecting the birds from the elements, including wind and rain, and providing bedding like hay to keep the chickens warm will help in light freezing conditions, but heat lamps in enclosures might be needed to keep them from getting colder Protect temperatures.
“It’s important to remember that heat lamps are a potential fire hazard, so it’s important to properly position and secure them,” he said. “But in most cases, a good stable that offers shelter from the elements and has well-insulating bedding, but still provides adequate ventilation, should be sufficient unless the temperature drops into the teenage range.”
Coufal said colder temperatures could also have a negative impact on egg production.