WITH THE ARRIVAL of winter temperatures, a great cover-up is happening across Florida gardens. No, we’re not trying to hide anything—we’re trying to protect our plants!
Plant coverings are for frost protection versus cold protection. Covers can be sheets, quilts or frost/freeze cloth. Other than frost/freeze cloth—which allows air and light to flow through it—covers must be removed during daylight.
Plastic is not a good covering choice because it transfers the cold onto the plant. You can, however, put plastic on top of the sheet or quilt during windy freezes or on very cold nights.
The covering must extend to the ground to capture heat from the soil and provide wind protection. You can make a frame over the plant, then place the covering on top of the frame. That way, nothing touches the plant itself. A cardboard box large enough to fully cover the plant is an option.
Even with a covering, an additional source of heat may be needed. A lightbulb or Christmas tree lights—not LED because they do not provide heat—may help protect your plant from freezing.
If your tropical plants have not survived past winters, you may need to plant them in containers so you can move them from your landscape. Your garage temperature may be 10-plus degrees warmer than outside. Container plants can be covered to the ground or grouped together and covered.
Don’t encourage new plant growth by pruning or fertilizing because the plant will be more prone to cold damage. Pruning alters the hormone balance, resulting in a growth flush.
Delay pruning post-freeze until you see new growth and after the risk of a freeze passes. Then prune beyond the point of black or brown stem coloration. The damaged plant material insulates and protects the live parts of the plant.
Another option is to prune all dead plant material and freeze damage following the freeze. This makes it easier to cover and protect the plant if a freeze occurs before spring.
Healthy plants are less prone to cold damage and more resistant to insect damage or disease. Landscape plants need less fertilization in the fall because their nutrient intake is smaller that time of year.
Slightly moisten the soil before a freeze or near-freeze because moist soil releases more heat than dry soil. Hand water the ground beneath the plant.
This is a great time to mulch. Maintain a 3-inch layer of mulch after it settles. Mulch helps regulate the soil temperature and protect the plant roots.
After a freeze, check to see if your plant needs water. The leaves could be losing water while frozen water remains in the soil. Watering the soil will provide both a thaw and water your plant.
Practice the first principle of Florida-friendly landscaping: right plant, right place. Consider sun/shade, wet/dry, mature size, soil type and pH.
Cold-sensitive ornamentals should be planted in an area where air flows freely. Use screening, fences and landscape design where multiple plants are located strategically for protection. Well-drained soil enhances root growth and stability.
Plants in the shade become dormant earlier in the fall and stay that way until later in the spring. Reduce cold injury by planting under a tree canopy. Shade-thriving plants have less moisture loss than full sun-loving plants. Sun-loving plants living in shady conditions are less cold tolerant.
Most perennials are root hardy. While the foliage will die back to the ground, new growth will appear in the spring.
Be patient. It can take several months before shoots are visible above the ground.
To find your local UF/IFAS Extension office, visit sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/find-your-local-office.