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Picture of man touching a frozen plant

Cold Damage Protection for Your Landscape

Even though we haven’t had any cold weather yet this year,

now is a good time to discuss how to prevent and respond to cold damage. With a few exceptions, Central Florida has had  relatively warm winters in recent years; but there is still the opportunity for frost or a freeze to harm plants that are cold sensitive.

The most susceptible part of a plant is the new growth. Avoid fertilizing or pruning which stimulates new branches, foliage or flowers. In West Central Florida, January and February are the coldest months on average. But cold events in March are not unheard of. We are in USDA zone 9A. Many homeowners have a few plants in their landscapes that are better suited for a warmer planting zone.

If a freeze is predicted, take a few steps as a precaution.

Potted plants should be moved to a sheltered location. Tender landscape plants should be covered by draping them with a material that reaches all the way to the ground. That will trap the warmth of the soil under the cover. Plants that are too large to cover should have layers of newspaper or fabric wrapped around the trunk for protection. If you have low, bedding plants that would be broken by a cover, rake up your leaves or pine needles and pile them over and around the plants. If that is not an option, place stakes in and around the area to be covered and drape your material over them. It is very important to remove the covering material during warmer (above freezing) daylight hours so the plants can continue to produce energy through photosynthesis. A prolonged cold spell may mean that you must repeat covering and uncovering your plants for a few days.
Do not, do not, do not run your sprinkler system overnight to protect your plants during a freeze. This is more likely to cause water droplets to freeze on your plants and does more harm than good.

Ice on a blueberry bush.

Ice on a blueberry bush.

If you have taken all the steps you are able, but still have some damage as the result of cold weather, wait until spring before cutting off the damaged foliage. What remains may be unsightly, but it will provide some shelter to the rest of the plant from subsequent cold events. When spring does come, you will know exactly where to prune or trim; and that will be the time to fertilize too.