We had a few chilly nights this January, which has prompted many calls to the plant clinic about cold damaged plants. Here in Central Florida it is tempting to grow many tropicals that are marginal to our area. The result of this practice is leaf burn and die back when we dip into the low 40s and below.
So, What Can I Do With Cold Damaged Plants?
Your best practice for cold damaged plants is to wait until we get warm again before doing anything except water. Typically in Central Florida our last frost date is sometime in Mid-February. To be extra safe, it is a good idea to wait until the beginning of March before you start pruning.
Pruning and/or fertilizing a plant can promote new, tender growth that is even more sensitive to cold damage. Pruning also removes a layer of protection, as those dead leaves provide a little buffer to the cold. While unsightly, letting your brown shrub remain brown is the best thing you can do for it.
Watering to keep the soil moist, but not completely saturated, is a good idea when temperatures are low. While many plants can tolerate cool or cold temperatures they need more water to make it through dry, windy days. Drying out is a big issue with plants when we get cold and can lead to death just as quickly as cold damage does.
Once we hit the end of our cool season, wait to see where your plant begins to grow again and cut back to living wood. This can mean only minor pruning, or it can mean cutting the bush back to the ground and hoping it grows back from the roots.
How Do I Protect My Sensitive Plants Next Year?
Sheets, blankets, canvas, burlap, or frost cloth can be used to cover cold sensitive plants and protect them from chill nights. Do not use plastic, as it can over-heat and bake your plants and also encourages fungus. Make sure your covering does not touch the leaves of your plant. Where the cloth touches the leaves can become super chilled and lead to burn.
Plants do not produce their own heat, so don’t wrap up your shrub like a lolly pop. The fabric should be anchored to the ground, as it is the heat from the ground being trapped under the blanket that helps to keep your shrub warmer. For extra heat, an old set of outdoor Christmas lights can produce some warmth.
Also, pick plants that are cold tolerant to plant in the ground, and plant your tropicals in pots that you can move indoors on cold nights. With the right plants in the right place, you’ll have less work when we hit the 20’s next year.
Read more on cold damage recovery at: http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/weather/treating-cold-damage.html
Contact the Plant Clinic
The Seminole County Master Gardener Plant Clinic is open Monday – Friday from 9am-Noon and 1pm-4pm. For more information on how to contact a Master Gardener about your gardening questions, visit our website at this [LINK].