ORLANDO, Fla. — It’s not often that temperatures dip near freezing in Central Florida, but when they do, it’s important to prepare your outdoor plants for the cold.
Here are nine tips from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) about what to do before and after a freeze to help your plants weather the cold.
1. Watering landscape plants before a freeze can help protect them. Wet soil will absorb more heat during the day and radiate it during the night.
2. Move plants in containers into protected areas where heat can be supplied or trapped. If you have to leave containers outdoors, push them together and protect with mulch to reduce heat loss from the container walls. (Note: Leaves of large canopy plants may be damaged if crowded together for extended periods.)
3. Heat radiates from soil surfaces during the night and is mainly lost to the atmosphere unless it is trapped. To reduce radiant heat loss and protect plant roots, you can place mulch around the plants. For perennials, the root system is all that needs to be protected.
4. Coverings protect more from frost than from extreme cold. UF/IFAS officials say covers that extend to the ground and do not touch plant foliage can lessen cold injury by trapping heat; but you need to be careful when using plastic as a cover, because foliage that touches plastic coverings is often injured since the cover actually takes heat away from the plant.
5. Examples of coverings include cloth sheets, quilts, plastic, or commercial frost cloths. UF/IFAS experts say to remove plastic covers during a sunny day or provide ventilation to keep the air under the cover from heating up too much.
6. Putting a light bulb under a cover is a simple method of providing heat to ornamental plants in the landscape.
7. After a freeze, especially on a sunny day, plants can lose water because the water in the soil or container medium is frozen. Watering the plants will give them available water and will also help thaw the soil.
8. After a freeze, you can remove dead leaves once they turn brown. You should wait to do any severe pruning until new growth appears. This way you can be sure you are not removing any live wood and damaging the plant even more.
9. Sometimes cold injury isn’t as obvious. For instance, two symptoms of cold injury are a lack of spring bud break and/or an overall weak appearance. On woody plants, UF/IFAS officials say the cambium layer under the bark will be black or brown if a branch is damaged.
For more information on winter plant protection, cold-hardy plant varieties and other winter landscaping questions, contact your local extension office.
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