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Fall Plant Care for the Entertainment Season

It is officially Fall.  We have been given an extra hour of sleep.  And we have been robbed of several degrees of warmth.  We now have great weather for sipping warm drinks and working on our landscapes for the “Entertainment Season.”  Careful plant selection and mindful management will give you the desired verdant veranda and lush lanai no matter the temperature range.

Florida Friendly Landscaping and Lower Temperatures

Right plant, right place” means planting what grows best here.  However, we all have a few plants which are more tropical in nature.  Placing your very tender potted tropical plants in protected spaces for the season is a must during a winter cold event.

Blayne's Moth Orchids in a live oak tree

Moth Orchids in Live Oak trees, photos by Blayne Throm

Orchids placed in oak trees will give these beauties a slightly warmer micro-climate.  Those large pots of seasonal plantings by the front entry may be filled with cool season annuals for a pop of color as guests enter.  And cold-tender potted plants should be brought indoors or grouped together to protect one another from losing heat.  Your in-ground perennials may also need some thoughtful consideration.  These plants should be assessed and planted strategically near other larger plants where they can shelter from the cold and share warmth.

Pay close attention to the weather forecast.  On the morning before a winter chill event, gently give your tender plants a very long drink of water at the roots.  This water will absorb heat all day that will then act as a steamy insulating blanket overnight.  This may not prevent all possible damage, but it could significantly reduce total loss of favorite plants.

A woman covers plants with a sheet to protect them from frost damage

Covering plants to protect from frost. UF/IFAS Photo: Sally Lanigan.

If the forecast calls for frost, use cloth to carefully cover plants that are likely to suffer.  Cloth covers should not touch the plant and should go all the way down to the ground in order to retain the radiant heat from the soil.  These could be anchored with rocks, pots, and clothespins. Useful plant covers could be old tablecloths, towels, or bedsheets. Do not use plastic to protect plants.  Plant covers should be removed after the sun comes up and warms the air the next morning.

Rain barrel and annuals freshly watered

A rain barrel used to water plants. UF/IFAS Photo: Tyler Jones.

Monitor Soil Moisture

If your soil is still damp from the day before, there is no need to remoisten on a consecutive day of declining overnight temperatures.  Consistently cold, wet soil may cause other unwanted problems.

If you do experience cold damage, wait until warm weather returns before carefully removing damaged branches. It is okay to leave frost-burnt branch ends on the plant for a time.  This could protect tender plants such as palms, banana, and crotons from the next cold snap.  Though damaged, these plants may recover in a few months time. Continue to manage soil moisture near these plants for the remaining cooler months.

Fertilizer Appropriately

Fertilizer should be used sparingly in the winter months. Most plants affected by cold temperature will not require feeding since they are not actively growing.   This includes you turf grass, which is a warm season plant that wants to hibernate during the cooler weather and reduced sunlight hours of winter.  Avoid walking on turf grass while frost is still present as this will kill the grass under your feet.

Cool Weather Landscape Management Fact Sheet pdf

For more information on protecting plants from cold damage, please see the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Electronic Data Information Source (UF/IFAS EDIS) ENH1 publication entitled, “Cold Protection of Landscape Plants“.