Each winter, I see all manner of eye-catching decorations in area front yards. I’m not just talking about flying reindeer. Each time a hard freeze is expected, you may find your neighbors draping everything from floral-print sheets to hats and scarves over the plants in their yard. If you’ve been confused at this unusual dress-up game, follow these guidelines to make sure your garden preparations for a cold night pay off.
The first step in freeze-proofing your landscape is to find out which plants need protection from the cold. As a general rule, you can assume any well-established plants and those native to Leon County have adapted to our climate and will survive a cold winter’s night without our help. Most hollies, loropetalums, boxwoods, azaleas, and camellias are cold-hardy in our North Florida gardens. When in doubt, bring pictures and samples of your plants to your favorite local garden center or extension office for identification, and this will help you to find out how much cold they can tolerate.
Which plants need protection from the cold?
There are some broad categories of plants that require our help to make it through a cold winter. One of the best ways to ensure a safe winter is to plant your special plants in a container that can be brought indoors on freezing nights. Small-growing plants, such as orchids and succulents, are perfect choices to keep in containers, where they can live outdoors from spring through fall, and brought indoors on cold winter nights. Bring most orchids indoors for any evening predicted to get below 40 degrees, as many varieties and species of orchid are very sensitive to cold temperatures. Succulents and smaller growing tropical plants should be brought indoors when the low temperature is predicted to reach 32 degrees or colder.
Certain cold-sensitive plants will grow much better in the ground than in containers. This is especially true for larger-growing specimens. Large growing tropical plants and certain citrus trees are among the more common cold-sensitive plants to find growing in the ground in Leon County. Many tropicals act as perennials in our climate, and while the tops of the plant may freeze and die in cold weather, the roots can survive and sprout in the spring. If you have an in ground citrus tree or large tropical you would like to protect there are some things you should know about keeping them warm.
How to use your frost cloth
Plants and people stay warm on cold nights in different ways. People produce a great deal of heat, and we wear clothing to trap that heat to keep us warm. Plants, however, do not produce noticeable quantities of heat. Instead, we must trap the heat that is released from the ground to keep our plants warm on a frigid evening. When you cover plants to keep them warm, keep this concept in mind: Make sure you have a large enough piece of material to completely cover the plant in question, and make contact with the ground all the way around. Use heavy objects such as bricks or stones to pin the fabric to the ground. Remember, you are trapping the heat released from the ground in this procedure. If you wrap the top of a tree up, and cinch it tight on the trunk like a big lollipop, the heat from the ground will escape just as readily as if you had nothing.
While grandma’s handmade quilt might look festive draped about the garden, always use frost cloth to protect cold sensitive plants. Frost cloth is engineered to trap the most heat possible in an outdoor setting. A one-time purchase of good quality frost cloth can last years and be reused each winter.
If you’d like to take your cold care to the next level, string a set of Christmas lights underneath the plant covering. Make sure to use the old fashioned type of lights that produce more heat for this purpose.
Still have questions?
Be sure to reach out to us before freezing temperatures hit. With help, you can identify the plants in your yard, and know which specimens need your care to make it through a cold winter. A little advice and proper materials can make even the coldest night as trouble-free as a walk in the park.
This article was written by Jonathan Burns (Tallahassee Nurseries Outdoor Manager, FNGLA Florida Certified Horticulture Professional)
using information from years of personal observations of gardening in the Tallahassee area.