Temperatures in Polk County have already dipped into what could be a dangerous zone for tender landscape plants, and more cold nights are on the way. If you are ready to cover your plants, here is what you should know:
- Water your plants. Try to limit the amount of water on the foliage. The key is to wet the soil around the plant.
- Make sure that you have adequate mulch around the base of your plants. Maintaining 2-3 inches of mulch in all your landscape beds will ensure that you have a bit of extra insulation when you need it.
- Choose cloth covers such as frost cloth or old sheets. Do not use plastic.
- Cover your plants properly. Remember that the goal is to trap the heat from the ground inside the cover. This means that the cover must fully extend to the ground. In addition, it is best that the cover does not touch the plant’s foliage. Use stakes or other items around the house to make some small “forts” for your tender plants. Tomato cages, cardboard boxes, bamboo stakes, trellising and lumber are all easy to use. Get creative and use what you can find.
- If additional warmth is needed, you can provide a heat source under the cover. Christmas lights can be used, but be careful not to use anything that will get to warm and potentially start a fire.
To make your job easier in the future, consider grouping cold sensitive plants together or planting them in containers that can easily be moved into a protected area, such as the garage. You may get additional protection from tree cover or small micro-climates around your landscape. Those are the best locations for your tropical plants.
When our temperatures return to normal, don’t be too hasty to prune frost or freeze damage. The dead foliage will actually act as insulation if we have more freeze watches and warnings. Wait until all danger of frost is over, usually late February or March. Continue to water your plants as you normally would but do not apply fertilizer. Encouraging growth during this time of year may result in more plant damage if frost or freeze occurs. Annual bedding plants that will not recover can be pulled up from the ground and removed at this time. Remember that after the spring warm-up, it can take some plants quite some time to produce new growth. Scrape the bark of injured trees and shrubs with your fingernail to determine if recovery will occur. Dead plant material will be black or brown while live material will be green. You may prune back to live material.
For additional information on cold protection in the landscape you can contact the Plant Clinic at (863) 519-1057. There are also some other great UF/IFAS resources that may give you some additional tips and tricks:
- In this blog post, Matthew Orwat, an Extension Agent in NW Florida, has some recommendations for vegetable gardens. He has a couple of great photographs showing how to cover a small vegetable garden.
- Preparing for potential cold temperatures is important, Gardening Solutions shares some helpful tips on what to do before, during and after a freeze.
- Preparing the landscape for cold weather. Scroll to the bottom of the page for links on freeze damage to lawns.