With the heart of our Florida winter coming into play, cold snaps and possible freezing temperatures will be possible for the next several weeks, even though our temperatures have been above normal so far this season.
Many of our Florida plants will withstand the cold temperatures with grace, while others will struggle and wilt at the first sign of a chill. Since many of us do some serious planting during the cooler winter months, the cold weather may pose some serious challenges for our precious plants.
One of the best ways to offer protection for the root base of your plants is to use mulching material around the base. You can recycle many of the products you already have around your home.
You can use bark from trees you might have cut down or bark that has come loose from your pine trees. Straw also can make an excellent mulching material. If you live in a rural area, straw may be available from some local farmers that are in your area.
Sawdust can also be used as mulching material. If you are a wood worker or do a lot of remodeling, save that sawdust you vacuum up and recycle it in your yard!
Peat moss also makes a great mulching material that is readily available at most lawn and garden centers. If you have oak trees or live in a heavily wooded area, you can use leaves as protective barriers around the base of your plants. You can even use your old grass clippings as mulching material around your plants. By using the mentioned materials for protecting you plants, you are helping to recycle our natural resources and are saving more cypress trees that are rapidly being depleted by the widespread use of commercial products, such as cypress mulch.
In addition, all the above- named materials will slowly degrade in the soil and add natural nutrients that will be beneficial to the plants.
In order for the mulching material to be effective in the event of a low temperature or freeze scenario, the material should be at least 2 to 3 inches thick, but you should keep a margin of about an inch from the main part of the plant trunk.
There are some exceptions to this rule such as citrus trees. You should never mulch around citrus plants, as this can actually cause harm to the tree.
Be sure the areas are heavily mulched. It is extremely important that your garden be moist prior to a cold snap. The combination of dry soil and cold temperatures can cause serious damage to tender plants.
If our area should come under a freeze watch or warning you will need to take some extra precautions to minimize the damage to your plants.
Covering your plants will be the next step you need to take. Be sure to use cloth and not plastic when protecting your plants. Plastic can act like a greenhouse and when the sun comes up, the drastic temperature change can be fatal to your plants. Even when using cloth, be sure to use stakes if possible so that the material does not come in direct contact with the plant. After the cold weather or freeze event is over, be sure to remove the covering material promptly.
Fortunately, Florida enjoys seasonal temperatures through most of the winter and mild freezes do not happen often. In fact, this year so far to date has been unseasonably warm.
It is important to remember that many of our tropical plants can start to have cold damage with temperatures as low as 39 degrees. Hibiscus plants can wilt and shiver at around 35, as well as many flowering annuals. Orchids, along with some other specialty plants, do not like temperatures much below 45 or 50.
The main thing is to be ready if a cold snap or freeze heads our way and you will reap the rewards of healthy plants throughout the winter.
Joe Zelenak has more than 30 years experience in gardening and landscape. Send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website www.hometowngarden.com.