Good Morning! Many of us woke up recently to find some very unhappy (and extremely UGLY) plants in our landscape! Well I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Grab a cup of coffee and let’s talk about this for a minute. Florida’s climate is very conducive to having lush tropical and sub-tropical plants abounding in our landscape…aaah, it’s like paradise–but not when we get to the cold, potentially freezing time of year! Some tender-leafed plants (Hibiscus, Dracaenas, Oyster Plant, Schefflera just to name a few) can suffer severe damage to the leaves even when the temp dips to 45-50 degrees. Now imagine what happens when we get frost or, Heaven, forbid, freezing temperatures. We’re talkin’ dead and ugly. There are some precautions you can take to help avoid this and if it’s now after the fact and you’re looking at some disturbing sights in your flower gardens–you need to hear what I have to say so you don’t add insult to injury, okay?
Here are a couple of things you need to know right off the bat: DO NOT PRUNE THE DEAD STUFF OFF YET, let me repeat that DO NOT PRUNE THE DEAD STUFF OFF YET! I know it’s yucky looking. I know it bother’s the heck out of you. I know it makes your landscape look like poop. I know that, BUT this dead, ugly stuff will actually protect the plant when the even colder, even more damaging temperatures come that usually happen in, say, February and sometimes into March. It cold, it’s hot. It’s cold, it’s hot. The poor plants don’t know what to do. All they want to do is take a little rest from the growing season and “chill out” (okay, that was in poor taste) for a while. But NOOO, The weather has them all fouled up. So they grow and they rest and grow and rest…These plants, including our grass (which incidently, is just the biggest “plant” in your landscape) need to have a dormant time to rejuvenate and rest from all the growing and producing they have to do most of the year. Give them a break.
So you’ve heard that hind sight is 20/20. In a “perfect world” you would have chosen cold hardy plants and not just lush, tender tropiclals. You would have put the cold-sensitive plants under the canopies of larger trees, along fence lines and against the house to help protect them when our usually, short-lived, cold snaps come. The lighter weight plants in pots, you would have brought inside, of course. You would have made sure that your last fertilization was done way back in November AND that you only used half the amount you normally do in the Spring, right? Certainly, you would not have pruned the plants after late fall, as this would have caused NEW growth which is much more susceptible to cold, frost and freeze damage! Alrighty then , you also would have watered lightly before the potentially damaging temps (but not too much, that would actually cause a rot problem, right? ) And, of course you had already insulated the ground by applying about 3″ of mulch around the base of the really tender plants in your garden. Being the serious gardener that you are, I’m certain you have light sheets or the like , NEVER HEAVY PLASTIC, and bricks to weigh them down on hand to loosely cover the plants and keep them from blowing away. The other thing you thought about was, putting a light (like a mechanics light or utility light) under the cloth (not touching the leaves) to keep the heat in. I’m also sure that you made sure to give everything, including your lawn a nice dose of MICRO 5 (zinc, copper, boron, iron and manganese–NO NITROGEN) to ensure they have all the nutrition they need to head off damage or at the least, help them bounce back from damage they may sustain.
Now, even though you thoroughly prepared, you may still end up with the aftermath of extremely cold or freezing weather to your landscape. Not to worry, unless the root system was completely killed or has rotted from too much water, you have a great chance that they will come back. This is the time I need to really emphasize and reiterate how important it it that you DO NOT PRUNE THE DEAD LEAVES AND BRANCHES OFF UNTIL ALL DANGER OF FROST AND FREEZE IS GONE (usually around mid to late March–but sometimes later). It may seem that I am obsessed with this fact, but, seriously, it is that important. You see, during January, February and March we have awesome spreads of amazingly warm Florida weather. You know what I’m talking about–at the end of a cold spell the weather turns warm and beautiful and we want to get out there and prune and trim and plant and fertilize and make everything look pretty again. But this should be avoided at all costs or you may end up with damage on top of damage or young tender new plants that die out before true spring really hits! Now I’m not saying you can’t pick off dead leaves that are just barely hanging on, I’m talking about pruning and cutting back. Even though the plant may look unsightly for a bit, that damage is a blessing in disguise and will help prevent future damage when the REAL cold gets here. When you prune and trim and pinch, you are actually telling the plant to “grow” and that new growth is extremely vulnerable to cold/freeze damage. Trust me on this, okay? You’ll be glad you did–and so will your pocketbook.
If you would like information on cold-hardy and cold-sensitive plants for Florida, shoot me an e-Mail and I’ll get that to you within a day or two. In closing, I want to tell you that the single most important thing that you can do for your lawn and all your ornamental plants, whether cold sensitive or hardy, whether fragile and brail or woody ornamental is PROPER FEEDING AND WATERING! That is an entire subject in and of itself, so I won’t get into all that today, but you can expect that it is coming in the very near future as we proceed past the winter and into the spring growing season. In the meantime, if you have any questions that can’t wait–feel free to contact me and I’ll get you the answers ASAP.
Be Blessed and Stay warm–it’s cold out there!!
Mona Giordano “The Bug Lady”