Get a Winter Workout in the Garden

The mostly mild South Texas winter months are a pleasant, comfortable time to putter around your yard. You may even work up a little sweat and drop a few holiday pounds!

For many people, winter is a time of reflection and rejuvenation. In South Texas, those activities also apply to the landscape, where there’s plenty to do — or in some cases, not do.


If rain doesn’t materialize during a winter month, water the lawn only once that month. Excess irrigation leads to fungal diseases like brown patch and take-all patch.

Aerate and add a thin layer of compost in late winter or early spring. Aeration should be done with a core aerator, one that pulls plugs from the ground and the depth of compost should be between ¼ and ½ inch.

Perennials & Shrubs

Not much to do with these until late winter. In late February, you have the option to prune perennials down to 3 inches above the ground or just leave the stems until new growth occurs and prune then. Pruning to 3 inches may be done every year, every two years or every five years. It’s entirely up to you. But most perennials do best with regular pruning to the ground.

The planting process is the same for all woody plants:

  1. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the root ball or container.
  2. Allow for one inch of root ball to be above the grade.
  3. Use the original soil plus a small amount of compost as backfill.
  4. Water in everything well.
  5. Cover the planted area with 1-½ inches of mulch.


Winter time is the best time for pruning trees. No more than 20 percent of the canopy should ever be removed during a year. Topping — the wanton indiscriminate removal of limbs — is expressly forbidden. All branch removals must always occur at a branch junction or a bud. You can prune small trees yourself, but if you need to use the top rungs of the step ladder it’s time to call a certified arborist. Wound dressings are optional, except in the case of oaks. In general, tree pruning should be completed by the end of February.

Leaves are free fertilizer. Mow repeatedly while they are on the ground to speed up decomposition.

Picture of Mark Peterson
Mark Peterson
Mark A. Peterson was a conservation project coordinator for San Antonio Water System before retiring. With over 30 years of experience as an urban forester and arborist, Mark is probably the only person you know who actually prunes trees for fun. When not expounding on the benefits of trees and limited lawns, you're likely to find him hiking San Antonio's wilderness parks or expounding on the virtues of geography and history to his friends.
Dig Deeper

Find expert advice on garden basics, landscape design, watering and year-round maintenance.