January and February are the coldest months in Florida. The temperatures are frequently low enough to cause injury to our plants, especially ones not adapted to our Florida climatic conditions. Freezing conditions occur annually in north and central Florida while below freezing temperatures are rare in South Florida.
Cold injury can occur to the entire plant or just to the flowers, buds, stems or roots. Many plant parts can adapt to tolerate cold, but fruits and roots have little ability to acclimate or develop a tolerance. Another type of winter injury is called plant desiccation or drying out. This is characterized by leaf tip burn in mild cases, to totally brown leaves in severe cases. With your help, cold damaged plants can often recover.
Ornamental plants can be protected during a freeze by sprinkling with water. Sprinkling for cold protection helps keep leaf surface temperatures near 32 degrees. Automatic sprinklers should be set to begin before freezing temperatures are reached and continue until thawing is completed. A well watered soil will absorb more solar radiation than dry soil and will radiate heat during the night. Care must be used as to not overwater after a freeze which can result in damage to the root system of the plant or fungus to the grass.
Do not prune cold damaged plants right away after a frost or freeze. Although the dead foliage may look bad, it will insulate the plant from any possible future cold weather injury. In the spring, assess the damage by scraping the bark with your finger nail. Cold-injured wood will be black or brown under the bark. Prune these branches behind the point of discoloration. Wait until the plant begins to sprout new growth to determine where to prune. If you are unsure how to prune consult a certified arborist.
Plants grown with optimal levels and balance of nutrients in fertilizer will tolerate cold temperatures better and recover from injury faster than plants grown with little or imbalance nutrition. Healthy plants are more resistant to cold than plants weakened by disease or insect damage. Monthly routine inspection for pest & control measures are essential.
While you may be tempted to add fertilizer to your plants to help speed there recovery, hold off. If you fertilize to early you could encourage new growth before cold weather is gone. Its best to wait until the spring fertilizer application. Once the danger of frost has passed, an application of fertilizer can speed recovery.
Fences, buildings, trees and temporary coverings can protect plants from cold winds. Windbreaks are especially helpful in reducing the effects of freezes and the accompanying winds. The height and location of a windbreak will affect the degree of wind speed reduction & temperature at a given site.
Plant Site Selection
Homeowners can take steps to help acclimate plants to cold temperatures and to protect plants from temperature extremes. These steps range from selection of proper planting site, proper plant selection (Florida Friendly Landscaping) to alteration of our cultural practices. Temperatures fluctuation can vary from one site to another within the same residential landscape. Tender plants should be planted in a site with good air drainage, and not in a low area where cold air settles. Poorly drained soils result in weak, shallow roots which are susceptible to cold injury.
I hope the tips we have prepared for you helps you with tips to prepare your gardens & landscapes for cold weather. If you need help regarding your landscape, we at Garden Services are fully licensed & insured to handle all of your irrigation, landscaping, lawn maintenance and tree service needs whether it’s a residential, commercial or homeowner association property If you ever have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email me and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have. Special thanks to UF/IFAS extension offices for some helpful information provided to this post.