Frost in Florida? We have not seen it yet, but it can happen. Recently, we have seen the temperatures dropping as Winter approaches. Here in South Florida we don’t get a lot of frost, but when we do it can be devastating to our tropical plants. The idea of frost damaging or even killing your plants may be hard to imagine when you’re sitting on one of our beautiful beaches and enjoying a nice sunny day. If you think your landscape is safe you may be wrong. There are a lot of things you can do to protect your yard in the event of frost.
The next time the weather man says to break out your blankets… listen. Remember to think about your yard. This post can help when you need to prepare for the cold. Here are a few things to know about your plants and frost.
A “standard” winter here in South Florida landscape plants, when placed properly, will do just fine. Some may lose a few leaves, but will come back out again in spring. Some winters are worse than others. No matter how good you are about cold protection, you may still lose some plants to winter weather. Even cold hardy plants can sustain damage.
Cold fronts mostly come out of the northwest or west. Tropical plants on the south and east side of your home make use of one of the best cold barriers your house itself. Big trees or palms, should be placed in areas shielded by large, more cold-tolerant trees. Plantings with canopy coverage helps by keeping it a bit warmer and protected from frost. Fences and cold hardy hedges on the north or northwest side can act as a buffer against cold winds.
Yes, you should water before a frost. Here is why:
- Drying winds take more of a toll on too-dry plants.
- Watering early in the day warms the soil and helps the plant survive the cold.
Plants don’t have body heat like people. Watering a plant in the morning before a predicted cold night allows the soil to absorb warmth from the sun and warmer daylight air. If you then cover a plant for a chilly night, the covering helps capture warmth from the soil.
The idea is to keep frost from touching the plant. Forget the sheets – a sheet does nothing to protect a plant from frost or cold. The best cover for cold protection? Frost cloth, a thick insulated material available from nurseries and home centers. You can substitute with a thick quilt or blanket, though frost cloth gives the best cold protection and it’s more lightweight.
Install the frost cloth or covering all the way to the ground. If possible, secure the cloth with rocks or something heavy all the way around the plant’s base to keep the covering from blowing off and to trap the soil’s warmth. Do NOT use plastic to cover plants. It doesn’t “breathe” and can create even colder temperatures underneath it. Remove coverings in the morning. Tie up the fronds of a small or young palm and wrap the “head” with frost cloth, a heavy blanket or several layers of burlap. For small trees, wrap the entire head. Home Depot is a great place to find the appropriate frost cloth to protect your plants.
What to do if your plants get damaged by frost
WHATEVER YOU DO…
- Don’t prune anything! The more foliage a plant has, damaged or not, the better insulated it will be. Damaged leaves will bear the brunt of any future cold event. Pruning encourages new growth – tender new shoots that emerge can be hurt by the next cold snap.
- Don’t fertilize! This also encourages tender new growth.
If a plant is hurt by the cold, it may display one or several symptoms:
Leaf drop – Many tropicals like crotons will drop some of their leaves – or even all of them – in an extra cold winter. Don’t worry…new growth will emerge in spring.
Foliage burn – A very common form of damage, this is basically freezer burn on plants. Leaves or portions of them may turn tan, brown or even black and very wilted.
Sometimes just the tips of the leaves, such as on the fronds of a pygmy date palm, turn brown – usually from wind burn. In spring you can cut off any damaged fronds.
Fungus – Plants suffer stress from cold and may show signs of plant fungus – often developing brown spots on leaves. Apply a systemic fungicide after the cold event is over. Spray trees, shrubs and other plants with a fungicide like liquid copper. Palms may also need an additional drench to the center bud (where new frond “spears” emerge). You can also spray your plants just before winter sets in to strengthen their resistance to fungus.
The Make-It or Break-It mindset
Many of us do the minimum and just hope for the best. If this sounds like you, here’s your cold protection checklist:
- place plant correctly
- water in the A.M.
- cross fingers
It would be virtually impossible for us to cover all of our customers plants in the event of a frost. We just don’t have the man power or time. This article contains the information needed to “help” protect your plants. Let’s hope for no frost and continued mild temperatures that we are used to here in South Florida.
Some of this information was gathered from south-florida-plant-guide.com