As Sweet Berry Farm crews pulled tarps off of rows and rows of strawberry plants Feb. 24, following the previous week’s hard freeze, Lacy Copeland Garcia and Raelynn Copeland breathed a sigh of relief.
“Surprisingly, everything turned out pretty good,” Garcia said. “We have live blooms on the plants, and it’s about 30 days from bloom until there’s a berry.”
The Copeland family owns the pick-your-own farm at 1801 FM 1980 in Marble Falls. They anticipate opening the attraction for berry picking toward the end of March.
However, across the road from the main patch, Raelynn Copeland’s 150,000 tulips look like they might be ready for plucking in about two weeks.
“Some of the flowers that were up, they got burned (by the freeze), but it looks like they’ll be OK,” she said.
The exceptionally cold weather coupled with snow and ice raised the anxiety levels for growers and nurseries. Down the road from Sweet Berry Farm, the Backbone Valley Nursery crew scrambled ahead of the winter storm to move as many plants as they could into several greenhouses and cover others.
The owners and staff who live nearby checked on the facility during the storm and even placed propane heaters in the greenhouses.
Mary Kay Pope of Backbone Valley Nursery has been in the business for several decades and seen some of Texas’ toughest winter storms.
“I can remember the ’83, ’84, ’89, and 2011 freezes and was able to observe those storms’ effects on plants,” she said. “This one was, well, unprecedented, just terrible.”
Crews were able to save many of the plants, but the freeze came at the busiest time of the year for Texas nurseries: spring planting season. Many commercial growers in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, which supply Central Texas nurseries, were also hit by the storm.
Pope has begun ordering to replace damaged plants as well as those for the spring season, but growers can only ship what they have.
“I’m thankful for what we do get,” she said.
Trucks are rolling into Backbone Valley Nursery, 4201 FM 1980 in Marble Falls, with spring plants. Pope said 10 deliveries are expected this week alone.
The effects of the freeze also can be seen in yards and landscapes across the Highland Lakes. People might be tempted to cut back damaged plants right away, but Pope advised home gardeners to wait.
“I get a lot of information from experts around the state and other places, people from Texas A&M (University) and horticulturists, and what everyone is saying right now is ‘Do nothing,’” she said. “This is so unprecedented, nobody is sure how plants will react or recover. So, for now, we’re just asking people to be patient and see what happens.
“I know that’s tough, but it is the best thing to do right now,” Pope added. “The only thing we’re recommending is remove anything that’s turned to mush. If it’s collapsed and turned to mush, go ahead and remove that part; otherwise, you might get bacteria in there, and that’s not something you want.”
Pope writes a regular gardening blog, and she’s put one together on the recent freeze.
A good bit of news post-storm, Pope said, is that the snow and ice actually acted as an insulator for the ground and plants, so it could have protected them from the extreme cold temperatures. And, if you watered your plants before the freeze, that water could have helped contain heat in the soil.
Despite any damage from the freeze, Pope said people should keep gardening.
“It’s a great way to get outside, and, you know, with COVID last year and this year, it’s something you can do that’s still basically socially distancing but good for you as well,” she said.
At Sweet Berry Farm, as staff surveyed the strawberries, tulips, and 400 apple trees, they saw signs of hope.
“It could have been much worse,” Garcia said. “We’re extremely happy. This year, we may have a delayed start for strawberries, but that doesn’t mean we’ll have a shorter season. So, come on out.”