Learn how to protect your plants from the cold snaps.

Winter is here!! Learn how to protect your plants from the cold snaps.

The task of protecting your plants from “Old Man Winter” can be daunting, but if you adhere to these simple guidelines your landscape will be as beautiful as ever this Spring.

Jacksonville has many different micro-climates. So how much you will need to cover depends on where in town you live. For example, the beaches and along the river tend to be a few degrees warmer than the forecast and escape the worst of the freezes. While North and West of the river tend to be the coldest.

Hard Freeze Precautions! – Delicate plants need protection. Here are some valuable tips on how to care for your garden in freezing weather.

Some common plants found in Northeast Florida which need protection are:

TROPICALS – hibiscus, ginger, Hawaiian ti, xanadu, philodendron, croton, bougainvillea, stromanthe, arboricola, and ixora.

PALMS – roebelleni (pygmy date), adonidia (christmas), raphis (lady), bismarkia, and foxtail.

CITRUS – all at below freezing temperatures.

There are too many other sensitive plants to name here. If you are not sure about a certain plant in your yard try www.floridata.com or call us at 996-0712. Plants in containers are especially susceptible. Plant roots have little ability to acclimate or develop cold tolerance. While the ground stays well above freezing on a bitterly cold night, the soil in a container gets almost as cold as the air temperature.

Even though container plants’ above-ground parts may survive a cold snap the roots may suffer injury. Such injury is often not evident until several months later when warmer temperatures begin to place increased demands on the plant. To protect container plants, group them closely together in a protected location up against the home. If very cold temperatures are forecast, cover them with frost cloth for the night.

The best way to protect in-ground plants from the cold is to cover them. At Earth Works, as well as other garden shops, you can find a freeze cloth that is light-weight yet thick enough to provide a few degrees of protection on a cold night. Blankets also work well but are heavier and may require some supports to avoid crushing tender bedding plants, especially when weighted down by rain.

A sheet of plastic placed on top of a blanket can help hold the warm air underneath. However, plastic can burn any leaves it touches on a cold night. This is avoided by placing it over a cloth cover. If more than one night of protection is needed, remove the covers during the day to allow the sun to warm the soil. Then cover them again late in the day.

Blankets keep us warm because they help contain the heat that our bodies produce. Plants do not produce heat for the cover to hold in. The heat we are trying to contain is in the soil. Therefore whenever possible the covers should go over the plants and to the ground. In some cases, this just isn’t practical, like with a tall roebellini palm. In such cases, gathering and wrapping the head of the palm will be necessary. Be careful to include the “heart” from which the new fronds grow.

Two other handy items are a mechanic’s light or a string of outdoor Christmas lights. These can be placed under the covers to give added heat. Just take the obvious precautions to avoid fire hazards and electric shorts. Also, take care not to allow a hot light bulb to contact and damage plant tissues such as the trunk or branches. Use lights beneath a cover to protect valuable but marginally hardy plants like citrus trees. They can also make the difference for an in-ground bougainvillea on a really cold night.

When a freeze is a forecast, give plants a good watering a day or so in advance. Drought-stressed plants are more susceptible to cold injury. The moist soil is also a good “heat sink”, absorbing heat during the day and radiating it out slowly on a cold night. Combined with a cover it can make a small but important difference.

Of course, we must take care not to overwater, creating a water-logged soil condition. Soil dries out much more slowly in winter. Soggy soil excludes oxygen from the roots, often resulting in root loss and attack by root-rotting fungi.

Finally, you can use leaves to mulch perennial plants. A thick blanket of leaves can help protect marginal perennials.

We have rolls of 12′ wide freeze cloth to cut to any length as well as precut packages available at the Garden Center. If you have any questions just give us a call 996-0712.

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