Prepare for winter weather

Adam Russell, Texas AgriLife Today

January 12, 2024

Winter weather with sub-freezing temperatures is forecasted throughout much of the state over the next week. Here are some tips from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts on how to protect your plants, pipes and pets from the cold.

The AgriLife Extension Disaster Education Network also has multiple resources for Texans to access and prepare for any potentially severe winter weather.

A dog with snow on its face holds a stick in its mouth. Pets should be kept inside during severe winter weather.
Pet owners should be mindful about their pets when temperatures dip below freezing. A good, insulated shelter goes a long way, but it’s safer to keep them inside during extremely cold weather. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Laura McKenzie)

Protect your pets during winter weather

Experts at the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, TVMDL, shared some tips about caring for pets during winter weather.

– Pets should be kept inside during the day and night. If dogs must be left outside for any time, they should have a draft-free shelter large enough to stand and turn around in, yet small enough to retain body heat. Use a layer of straw or other bedding material to help insulate them against the cold. Make sure the entrance faces away from the incoming wind and snow.

– Keep cats indoors. Be mindful that cats left outdoors in cold weather seek shelter and heat under the hoods of automobiles and can be injured or killed when starting the engine. Banging loudly on the hood of your car a few times before starting the engine will help avoid tragedy.

– Be aware of pets around salt and deicers. Salt and chemicals on sidewalks to combat ice buildup can irritate skin and be ingested. Thoroughly clean your pets’ paws, legs and abdomen to prevent ingestion of toxic substances and prevent their pads from becoming dry and irritated. Signs of toxic ingestion include excessive drooling, vomiting and depression.

Winter is also a good time to leave pets’ coats a little longer than normal to provide them as much warmth as possible.

Protecting plants from freeze damage

Frosts and freeze can damage or kill exposed plants, especially those in containers, said Lisa Whittlesey, AgriLife Extension program specialist and international coordinator of the Junior Master Gardener program, Bryan-College Station. Damage can vary greatly among plant varieties, and cold-sensitive plants will require more protection than hardier plants.

AgriLife Extension has comprehensive information on protecting landscape plants and horticultural crops from frost and freezes. 

Watering plants and making sure they are not drought-stressed before freezing temperatures arrive can help, Whittlesey said. Watering just before the freeze can also help because water creates warmth and loses heat slowly. 

“Drought-stressed plants are more susceptible to the cold,” she said. “And if you can’t bring a plant inside, the best option is to cover them, remember to place them in a location that gets ample sunlight and to water them.”

Freeze damaged vegetable plants.
Some winter hardy plants may be damaged by sub-freezing temperatures, but they’ll likely recover. However, some plants, shrubs and trees need protection from low temperatures. (Texas A&M AgriLife photos by Courtney Sacco, Michael Miller and Laura McKenzie)

Plants in containers should be moved inside the home or garage — any space where temperatures will stay above freezing.

If container plants can’t be moved indoors, put them on the south side of the house, water them well and pile on mulch, leaves or hay to protect the roots and/or cover them with a frost blanket. Cold-sensitive landscape plants can also be covered with similar protection.

When covering plants, drape them with cardboard or cloth material to the ground and secure it, she said. The idea is to trap enough warmer air escaping from the soil to protect plants from a killing freeze. 

Stringing holiday lights around sensitive plants and covering them with a tarp can provide protection from light freezes, she said.

Protect pipes from freezing

When it comes to freeze damage to homes, protecting exposed pipes is critical when temperatures dip below freezing. AgriLife Extension has tips for preventing and thawing frozen pipes during severe weather.

Joel Pigg, AgriLife Extension program specialist and Texas Well Owner Network coordinator, Bryan-College Station, said homeowners should protect pipes around the house or in wellhouses now while the weather is good.

Water pipes can freeze and burst when the outside temperature reaches 20 degrees or below, but Pigg said take precautions anytime temperatures dip below freezing. Pipes with northern exposure face an increased risk of freeze.

“It’s best to act early, rather than when the storm is coming in,” he said. “Prepare now because supplies of insulation and parts might be limited during a rush for items needed to protect pipes just before freezing temperatures arrive.”

A water spigot with a hose attached.
Water spigot covers are a cheap way to protect home plumbing, but insulation for outdoor faucets and exposed or susceptible pipes can be the difference in preventing a break. (Texas A&M AgriLife photos by Adam Russell)

Exposed pipes, including outdoor faucets, water sprinklers, water pipes in basements, crawl spaces, attics or garages, pipes that run along exterior walls, swimming pool supply lines and well houses are especially susceptible to freezing temperatures.

Leaving water running slightly does help during prolonged freezing temperatures, and heat lamps to raise temperatures in lesser-insulated spaces with pipes like well houses or basements can help prevent breaks, he said.

Outdoor water systems should be drained and covered or allowed to drip slowly to help protect from damage, he said.

Many protective products to insulate water pipes like sleeves, insulation or heat tape are available at local plumbing supply retailers. Newspapers can also provide some protection to exposed pipes, as long as exposure is not prolonged.

Foam faucet covers also add protection to an area susceptible to freezing, he said.

“Covers are around $4, and insulation or heat tape are very inexpensive relative to paying for repairs,” he said. “Adding protective elements to any weak points is a good investment against short-term freezes.”


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