Land­scape

How to pro­tect plants against the cold

RSWLiving - - Departments - WRIT­TEN BY ED BROTAK

When Winter Weather Strikes

t’s not a stretch to call South­west Florida a trop­i­cal par­adise. Palm trees are ev­ery­where. Flow­ers bloom all year. Winter is a mis­nomer; it never re­ally gets cold here. Well, al­most never. When it does get cold, though, there is a real threat to some types of plants, and that’s when green- thumbed Florid­i­ans take ac­tion to make sure that their cher­ished green­ery sur­vives the oc­ca­sional cold spell.

Ac­cord­ing to Robert Van Win­kle, chief me­te­o­rol­o­gist for lo­cal tele­vi­sion sta­tion NBC- 2, “Cold weather threat­en­ing plants in this area usu­ally hap­pens at least once or twice ev­ery winter. Some years we have sev­eral “threat­en­ing” morn­ings; other winter sea­sons can be un­event­ful.” KNOW YOUR RE­GION What brings the cold weather? Van Win­kle points out that “we need a ‘ push’ from up­per- level winds to trans­port cold air from the North down this way.” An un­usu­ally large dip in the jet stream pro­vides such a push. Ac­cord­ing to Van Win­kle, the worst cases of­ten in­volve “clear skies, light winds, and low dew points.” It is these con­di­tions that al­low the heat from the earth to ra­di­ate out into space, thus drop­ping tem­per­a­tures rapidly af­ter sun­set.

Even when the cold air moves in, there is of­ten a wide vari­a­tion in low tem­per­a­tures in the re­gion. “In­land ar­eas are usu­ally more threat­ened with frost and freez­ing weather than coastal ar­eas,” Van Win­kle notes. “The warm wa­ters have a mod­er­at­ing effect on tem­per­a­tures near the coast and es­pe­cially for the is­lands.”

Cold air is denser and tends to sink into lower ly­ing re­gions. These are the so- called “frost pock­ets” that typ­i­cally oc­cur in val­leys or other low­lands. This effect is most

WITH PROPER PREPA­RA­TION, YOUR FA­VORITE

PLANTS WILL STILL BE AROUND LONG AF­TER YOUR NORTH­ERN FRIENDS GET DONE LAUGH­ING AT OUR FLORIDA- STYLE “WINTERS.”

pro­nounced on calm nights.

Highly de­vel­oped ar­eas, such as the cities, tend to be warmer. The heat of the day is of­ten trapped by build­ing ma­te­ri­als such as con­crete and as­phalt. This heat is given off at night, keep­ing tem­per­a­tures up in what is called the “ur­ban heat is­land.” PRE­PARE The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice pro­vides of­fi­cial cold/ frost warn­ings when nec­es­sary. If dam­ag­ing cold is pre­dicted, first de­ter­mine what you re­ally want, or need, to save. Brown flow­ers or leaves may look bad, but they will drop off and grow back. Most healthy peren­ni­als will sur­vive, even if ev­ery­thing above the ground dies, as long as the roots are pro­tected.

If the plants that you want to pro­tect are small and in con­tain­ers, sim­ply bring them in­side. Any type of struc­ture will work, and it doesn’t have to be heated. Plants in con- tain­ers are ac­tu­ally at greater risk out­side since the roots are more ex­posed to the cold; the sides of the con­tain­ers will ra­di­ate heat. If you must leave them out­side, push the con­tain­ers to­gether and cover their soil with mulch.

If the plants must stay out­side, you can also com­pletely cover them. The ground al­ways has some warmth in it. Cov­er­ing a plant will keep that warmth from ra­di­at­ing out into space. It works like a blan­ket. Any type of cover will help— blan­kets, sheets, ta­ble cloths, or even putting a trash can over a plant. Cover the plants as soon as the tem­per­a­ture be­gins to drop. This will keep in as much heat as pos­si­ble. Avoid us­ing plas­tic. Frost cloths, or polyester fab­ric sheets, can be pur­chased at many gar­den­ing out­lets. It is best to ac­tu­ally make a tent over the plants. Avoid hav­ing the fab­ric touch the leaves of the plants, since the cold can be trans­ferred to the leaf.

Mulching is a great way to pro­tect the plant’s roots from the cold. It has other ad­van­tages, too, such as re­duc­ing the soil’s wa­ter loss and re­duc­ing weeds.

Wa­ter­ing your plants be­fore a cold

night can also help. Wet soil will cool more slowly. Farm­ers will some­times use sprin­klers all night to pro­tect valu­able crops. This can be tricky to do and may even dam­age plants if done im­prop­erly, so leave this tech­nique to the pro­fes­sion­als.

Fi­nally, af­ter the cold has passed, don’t rush out to prune dead fo­liage. The plant will re­spond to this by send­ing out new growth. This new growth is even more sus­cep­ti­ble to dam­age if an­other cold spell oc­curs. PLAN AHEAD There are also steps that you can take well ahead of time to avoid cold or frost dam­age to your plants. Deb­bie Hughes, se­nior hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist at the Edi­son & Ford Winter Es­tates in Fort My­ers, gives these tips: “First, pick plants that work for our area. There were plants that Mr. Edi­son tried that didn’t seem to like the oc­ca­sional cold. Se­cond, keep plants healthy. A healthy plant can with­stand more stress. Fer­til­ize ap­pro­pri­ately. Third, don’t en­cour­age [ cold- sus­cep­ti­ble] new growth in the winter by trim­ming un­nec­es­sar­ily. Avoid prun­ing in the fall.”

It’s not hard to pro­tect your plants from Florida’s oc­ca­sional cold spells. With proper prepa­ra­tion, your fa­vorite plants will still be around long af­ter your North­ern friends get done laugh­ing at our Flori­dastyle “winters.” Free­lance writer Ed Brotak is a re­tired me­te­o­rol­ogy pro­fes­sor turned stay- athome dad. He and his fam­ily live in western North Carolina, but they love Florida and va­ca­tion here ev­ery chance they get.

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