And to All, a Frozen New Year

Garden topics this time of year can feel limited. Heck we’re not planting or pruning much of anything, we’ve done some cleanup in our yards and gardens, now we’re in a kind of holding pattern until signs of early Spring smack us between the eyes.

However, 2017 has shaken our hands “goodbye” with icy fingers and shoved us into the new year on a decidedly chilly note. Now conversation includes comments and questions on how to keep things from freezing!

We know the “P” words associated with below freezing temperatures; pets, pipes, people, and plants. Keeping people warm is priority, along with our family pets, especially the outdoor ones. Outdoor plants may need extra protection during very cold (temps in the teens) nights.

One other aspect of cold weather gardening: starting the new year with frozen and cracked water pipes can usually be avoided by wrapping any that are exposed to the outdoors. That includes faucets that had a watering hose attached to them during the summer. Drain the faucets, then wrap exposed parts in an insulated cover designed for that purpose or use leftover insulation wrapped in a plastic bag and taped tightly.

What about irrigation systems in very cold weather? If you have drip irrigation, those systems have valves, plastic fittings, etc. that can burst if water freezes inside them. The goal then is to shut off the water supply and flush any water left in the system out of it. offers advice on how to prepare drip irrigation systems for freezing weather.

For a traditional above-ground irrigation system, shut off its water supply at the main valve. That valve needs to be protected as well by wrapping it with insulation, use foam insulation tape and a plastic bag, or use insulating tubes such as those found in home supply stores.

An automatic irrigation system needs to have the time (controller) shut down as well; if the system has a rain mode on it signals to valves turn off without losing programming information. Additional information is available online or by contacting the company that installed your system.

Rain water saved to rain barrels should be drained to avoid frozen hoses and split barrels. Although it hurts us to see that collected rain water drained away, it’s better than a barrel sporting jagged cracks from water expanding as it freezes. Steps involved include: completely drain the barrel and open all spigots then turn it upside down; remove hoses and rain spout diverter if you had one; clean debris from barrel and filter screen (ahead of the game for spring); store in garage if possible or cover with a tarp if left outside.

We may not have another ‘deep freeze’ event the entire winter but if we do our water pipes, irrigation systems and rain barrels should be ready.

By Sallie Lee, Urban Regional Extension Agent, Alabama Cooperative Extension System.  Contact Sallie at

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. ACES is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce.  Educational programs of ACES serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin.

Alabama Extension

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities and answers home-gardeners' questions each week on Birmingham Gardening Today.

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