Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

An arctic blast is coming. How do I protect plants from freezing temperatures?

The good news is plants have acclimated to gradual cooling temperatures. However, a drastic temperature change is coming. I am amazed at providence. The predicted rainfall will benefit tender or newly installed plants.

Freezing temps may damage plant roots.
Prepare tender and newly installed plants for sudden drop in temps.
  1. Irrigate soil and roots if you don’t receive rain. Well watered soils absorb more solar radiation compared to dry soil. Soils re-radiate heat during the night. Avoid prolonged saturated soil conditions.
  2. Soil particles may repel water and resist absorption. Hydrophobic soils are a temporary situation. Hydrophobic soils restrict percolation of water. Water erosion and run-off may occur. Apply water and disturb surface tension.

    Surface tension resists water. Break up surface tension then reapply water.
    Adding organic matter may impede or help phobic soils.
  3. Follow fertilizer and pruning recommendations. Fertilizers stimulate new growth. Pruning may stimulate new growth. New growth is more susceptible to cold and frost damage.
  4. Water containerized plants. Move them to a protective structure. Group together to minimize heat loss from container sidewalls.

How does mulch protect in freezing temps?
Pine mulch applied in three inch layer.
Properly applied mulch may enhance the landscape.

Mulch helps retain soil moisture. It also creates a buffer between soil and air, protecting roots from cold extremes. After watering, add a 1-2 inch layer of organic mulch.

  1. Do not apply mulch to citrus. Do not mulch on top of newly planted root ball.
  2. Maintain 3-4 inch mulch-free zone around trunks and stems. Types of organic mulch include chopped leaf litter. Oak leaves are great. Chop by using a string trimmer inside a bucket or barrel. Small or medium hardwood and pine bark nuggets work well. As do pine needles. Melaleuca bark nuggets are available. A thin layer of shredded paper topped with mulch is an option.
  3. Decomposing mulch may add texture and nutrients to soil. However, soil under mulch takes longer to warm up in spring.

    Cypress mulch may repel water over time.
    What are mulch choices?
  4. Shredded cypress mulch is not recommended. Cypress tends to settle and pack down. It forms an impervious layer that sheds water. Periodically rake through mulch to refresh, loosen and allow water to percolate.
What about covering plants?

Certainly, depending on size of plant, gallon jugs with bottoms removed may be placed over small plants. Tomato cages, A-frame ladder and temporary wood structures provide support for cloth. Frost cloth, sheets, etc. offer frost protection. Remove cover during sunny days.

What else may be done ?

Healthy plants tolerate cold temperature, drought, insect and disease pressure better than stressed plants. They will recover from injury faster than stressed plants.

  1. Routinely inspect for pests.
  2. Fertilize and prune properly. UF offers guidelines for establishing, pruning and fertilization.
  3. Plant varieties suitable for the site. Micro-climate, care during establishment and placing the right plant in the right place come into play. Plants adapted to the climate, pests and disease tend to require less maintenance. This applies to exotic as well as Florida native plants.
  4. Young fruiting trees are more susceptible to frost damage.
  5. Consider micro-climates, pockets of cold or warm areas. Tree canopy, structures and buildings may create micro-climates. Cold air tends to settle in low lying areas.If you suspect cold or frost damage, be patient. Plant may come back. Best wishes, let me know how it goes. Happy Gardening!

Posted: December 6, 2017

Category: Home Landscapes
Tags: Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Gardening, Levy County Extension, Master Gardener

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