During Citrus County winters, temperatures can drop low enough to cause damage to tender plants.There are a number of steps gardeners can take to help provide effective cold weather plant protection.
Plant protection – Plants don’t need to be warm and toasty to survive cold nights; only a degree to two above freezing is usually all it takes . Effective protection covers plant material all the way to the ground. This method traps heat radiating up coming from the relative warmth of the ground. Apply a natural mulch, such as wood chips, to keep the soil warmer during cold snaps, while reducing weed competition and retain moisture.
Covers -Then add a protective cover early in the day, Don’t use plastic which can actually intensify the effects of cold, causing leaves to “burn”. In addition, plastic must be removed before the sun cooks plants underneath. The best temporary insulation includes blankets, sheets, cardboard box, limbs from Christmas tree, or even an overturned garbage . These around the house materials are potentially more abundant and cheaper to use. Higher tech, there are fabrics called frost cloths which are lightweight and heat-retentive but come with a cost and may be hard to find.
Lights – Gardeners who still own older style holiday lights can provide extra warmth to sensitive plants. Place lights under covers but don’t use a concentrated light such as a “shop light” These may damage plants or potentially cause a fire.
Irrigation? – While commercial growers may irrigate to protect strawberries and citrus, leave this practice to the professionals! Farmers use special equipment which is less likely to freeze, and they stay up all night monitoring and repairing frozen or broken systems. Most of us want to be snug under the bed-covers when the temperatures dip below the freezing mark.
For more information about effective cold weather plant protection, contact the Extension office at 352-527-5709.