How to care for your plants after the Freeze

How to care for your plants after the Freeze–By Mark Govan, Host of “Florida Gardening” on 970WFLA Live on Sunday’s 7-9am

The winter weather covering most of the country has finally descended upon us. Although the duration of this cold blast was not very long, freezing temperatures have touched the Tampa Bay area and have damaged our landscape plants, and turf grasses. Even some of our palm trees have been damaged, but we do not know how badly. Covering your plants has been frustrating, but you must remain vigilant. In this article, I will go over how to protect your plants from future freezes and what you need to do, after the freeze. Let’s get started.                 

            As daytime temperatures rise, those of you, who protected your plants will need to remove all plastic coverings to avoid burning the plant’s foliage. Plastic reflects the heat from the sun and if left touching the plant, then it can cause more damage. Blankets may be left in place if freezing weather is expected the following night. Unfortunately, Florida’s climate usually warms up quickly following a freeze, necessitating us to remove these covers, simply to reapply them a week later when the next front approaches. Hopefully, we will only have to do this a few times. Potted plants, orchids, or small plants which are able to be moved, should be kept in a protected area.

            Plants like schefflera, ficus, hibiscus, or bananas, which show freeze damage quickly, should not be pruned yet. If you prune a plant after a freeze, then the plant could send out new tender shoots, which could be badly injured in the event of another cold snap. Pruning also eliminates the protection these dead leaves offer the mother plant as these leaves tend to wrap themselves around stem offering protection from future frosts or freezes. Even wilted palm fronds can still protect the palm’s “bud”, which could save your tree.  

            Several palm species like the Chamaedoreas, Foxtails, Coconuts, and Anodidias (Christmas Palms) do not like cold weather. Many of these palms have been injured over the last few days. Not only freezing weather damages palms. Any temperatures, which fall below 45 degrees for an extended period of time, can also injure your tree. Because of their size, palms are very hard to protect against the cold. If you think, your palm has been damaged by the cold, or if see drooping fronds, then you should drench the bud of the palm with copper. Copper can help stop secondary infections like bud rots, which can kill your tree.   

            Those of you that still wish to plant these cold-sensitive palms in your yard can take a few simple steps to ensure their survival. Plant them in a protected southern exposure near a corner of the home. During cold weather, the blocks of the house will radiate heat stored during the day, towards the plant. Another suggestion would be to plant them on the southern edge of your pool or spa. Water can release heat during the night protecting surrounding plants.   

            Some people think that applying fertilizer to the plants or lawn following a freeze will help them recover quicker. This is wrong! Fertilizer can force your plants to push out new tender growth, which can be easily injured by additional freezes. You should fertilize your plants and turf grass in the fall with a winterizing fertilizer. This type of fertilizer contains additional potassium (The last number on a bag of fertilizer), which helps the roots of the plants to withstand the cooler temperatures and allows the plant to recover faster once temperature rise. You should also continue to water your plants regularly. Remember to adjust your sprinkler time clock to water only enough to satisfy the plants needs. Too much water in the winter months can aid root rots.   

            Cover your plants when practical and water the night before a freeze to preserve heat in the soil. Move small plants to protected areas and check “temperature zone hardiness guides” before purchasing new plants. Prune dead leaves only after all threats of freezes have diminished. Have fun in the garden and remember, without plants, we would not be here!

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