The Ups and Downs of October Weather

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
We are closing in on the 1st of November, the average date for our first freeze. As this article was going to the paper, the forecasters are still not reporting any signs of a freeze. If this forecast holds, or if we see a drastic change, we all know it can happen on short notice this time of year. Here are a few comments about the big swings in our fall weather, how those swings can affect our landscape plants, and what (if anything) we can do to minimize problems associated with those swings.

  • A late first freeze preceded by unseasonably warm temperatures. As of right now, this is our most likely scenario for this year. The biggest problem with this is the later into the fall we go without a freeze, the larger the temperature differential is likely to be. In other words, a big shock to the plants when it happens.
  • Perennial plants well adapted to Oklahoma can handle this shock without too much trouble but the transition is easier when our first freeze or two is light. This helps the plants ease their transition into dormancy which in turn prepares them for a productive spring. This was the likely cause for very slow crape myrtle green-up many of you remember in the spring of 2015.
  • If we continue to get hot and windy weather, it will be important to prevent plants from drying out. Even though they aren’t using as much water as they did in the middle of summer, they still need adequate moisture as they work to store energy reserves for the winter and next spring.
  • A solid freeze followed by an extended warm period. This is one of those scenarios you can only see when looking back at it. In general terms, it is really not helpful to try to prevent most plants from a freeze, it’s best to just let nature take its course. The exception would be if you have a fall garden and want to try to protect it from cold to keep it producing just a bit longer. This is certainly worth a try, and some people do this quite successfully. If you do cover a crop, just be sure to remove the protection as soon as the temperatures get above freezing the following day as a cover can quickly become a cooker on a sunny day.
  • Drought. It’s easy to forget that a lack of moisture can be a problem for plants in the winter time, but it can. Right now, most of us are getting just enough moisture to keep plants from becoming stressed. If the fall rains don’t come, keep an eye on soil moisture and irrigate when needed, especially new plantings. Also give a little extra water to evergreen plants, especially if they are exposed to harsh winds.
  • Windy and wet. This is a good scenario for almost all landscape plants with one exception; those smothered by layers of wet leaves. This is often the cause of dead spots in tall fescue lawns. The wet leaves prevent air and light from getting to the turf. It isn’t necessary to remove all the leaves, but it is a good idea to rake them around from time to time.
For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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