Five Property Management Tips to Prepare Landscaping for Freezing Temperatures


Unlike most northern states, many parts of the Southwest have yet to get that first big freeze of the season, but it’s on its way. And when the frozen temperatures arrive, hopefully property owners will have already made preparations to protect sensitive vegetation to sustain the landscape through the non-growing season.

In a perfect world, you would plant the right kinds of bushes, shrubs, ground covers, and trees at the apartment property so that winterization is minimal. But there is always something that needs protection from the elements.

Here are five simple property management tips to help provide that protection and prepare plants for freezing temperatures.

Get to Know the Hardiness Zone Map

One way to find out how your landscape will stand up to freezing temperatures is to visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Hardiness Zone Map. The map helps gardeners and growers determine which plants are most likely to thrive in a certain geographic region. Based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, the map is divided into 10-degree Fahrenheit zones. Click on your area and you’ll find out the range of extreme low temps as charted from 1976 to 2005. Next, do a search on the types of plants on the property and compare their Hardiness Zone ratings.

Check the Hardiness of Your Plants

Next, determine if the plants in your landscape are suited for the Hardiness Zone where the property is located. Identify any plants that are at risk. In many cases, this may be obvious. For example, palm trees growing in St. Louis are going to struggle with the city’s minus-5-to-zero average range of low temps.

The ultimate goal is to plan your plantings in accordance with the zone. The USDA resets zones about 10-20 years to adjust to changing weather patterns. Ongoing drought and mild weather across the U.S., for example, will certainly have an impact on the next update in about 20 years.

For help determining your plants and their different sensitivities to cold, contact your local university extension office.

Irrigate Plants Before a Freeze

In most cases, the best way to protect plants in cold weather or before a sub-freezing event is to thoroughly water them just before the temperature change as possible. Watering provides a good barrier between the root system and cold air. The ground is full of air pockets and watering fills in the gaps so that freezing air doesn’t penetrate and cause damage.

In most cases, running your irrigation system through its normal cycle as close to the freeze event as possible is good enough. Watering too soon can allow the moisture to leach the soil beyond the root zone, leaving the plant’s lifeline open to freezing air.

For best results, irrigate about 10-15 minutes on each spray station and 30 minutes per rotary station. This will provide 6-8 inches in depth of water coverage to keep roots moist through the freeze.

As a side note, frequent watering is not necessary during the winter unless drought conditions persist. In most cases, Mother Nature provides enough moisture to sustain a landscape. The rate at which water is lost is far, far slower in the winter than in the summer.

Be Smart About Covering Plants

There are a lot of misconceptions on covering plants. Knowing your plants will help you decide which of those that need protection. In North Texas, for example, people will cover pansies, which can grow in Colorado and sit under snow for two months and be just fine. There is no reason to cover them.

If absolutely necessary, cover plants, but be very aware that they need oxygen and sunlight. Coverage in plastic – albeit a good insulator – for prolonged periods can suffocate the plant. The most common mistake that people make is leaving the plant covered throughout the winter. Those of you in the Southwest know that while temperatures may plunge below freezing at night, it can reach the 50s during the daytime. Frequently covering and uncovering plants as the weather dictates is best.

Bring Planter Pots Inside

Planter pots are more prone to freezing because they are elevated and don’t have the natural heat within the earth for protection. Plants that are not freeze-tolerant should be stored in a protected area, like a maintenance shed or empty garage.

Many times, just getting them out of the path of the north wind is just as effective. Areas protected by the walls of the building or breezeways are good options.

A property’s landscape is an investment that should be protected when winter weather arrives. Knowing the tolerances of your plants and taking a few simple steps before the big chill arrives can help keep that investment flourishing through the off-season.

Image of bush covers decorated like snowmen

If you have to cover your plants, why not have a little fun?



President, Earthworks

author photo two

Chris Lee is President of Dallas, Texas-based Earthworks, which specializes in multifamily housing landscaping. He is a contributing author to Landscape Management magazine, licensed irrigation specialist and a Toro Intellisense certified technician. Chris studied business at the University of Arkansas from 1990-94 and horticulture and landscape design at Tarrant County College from 1999-01. He has been employed at Earthworks since 1998.

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