Winter-Proofing Your Home Garden

Take measures to protect your plants from the coming chill

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Poinsettias are a great color source for  your garden during winter months
Poinsettias are a great color source for your garden during winter months.

It’s December and I am dedicated to keeping myself warm. Truly, this starts long before the official start of winter on the 21st. My plants generally tolerate the lower temperatures better than I do. It helps that I prepared my landscape for the lows in the 50s and highs getting to just the mid-70s during the days. The most sensitive plants start to look puny only when temperatures dip below 40. 

Last year, we had several days when the temperatures plunged into the 30s, making everyone in our area fret over almost everything except very large native trees. Initially, there was a lot of scrambling a few hours prior to and during the temperature drop. Then, there were very long tales of woe. I have some practical ways to avoid both of those circumstances. 

Avoid over-irrigation and fertilizing. Tender new growth resulting from either practice will result in severely damaged tissue if there is a sharp drop in temperature. Water deeply once a week to allow your tropicals to continue subsisting in this weather. 

Mulching and watering before cold snaps is a must for your plants’ survival.
Mulching and watering before cold snaps is a must for your plants’ survival.

Having said that, watering is a very important part of cold protection for the landscape. Early in the morning prior to the overnight snap, deeply water all sensitive areas of the landscape. If you have an irrigation system, this is the time to run it. This water will act like a battery and store whatever heat is offered throughout the day. Overnight, that heat will be gently released into the atmosphere, buffering the temperature. The cold is very drying, so give them a drink again the next morning. 

Double-check your mulch levels. This cooler, dryer weather is sure to test even the most robust root systems. Moisture retention and temperature buffering is always important in the Florida-Friendly Landscape. Mulch will be an additional layer protecting the roots from the falling temperatures.  

A few days after a cold snap, assess your plants for damage. This is when you will be able to see what is truly beyond redemption. Gently prune those parts, snipping just beyond the point of damaged tissue. 

Mulching before cold snaps is a must for your plants’ survival.
Mulching before cold snaps is a must for your plants’ survival.

Now, let’s discuss beauty. At the peak of the holiday season, we believe in beauty and see it everywhere. The smallest touch of color seems to transform an entire space. The small touches I made last month are holding up. But my favorite gathering spot, the covered back deck, is still not as cheery as I desire. Poinsettias will be my salvation. 

Poinsettias, a Mexican treasure, are abundant this time of year. The colors are more varied and vivid than when I was a small child, but the care is almost the same. I will pot them singularly and in groups. They will receive at least six hours of indirect sunlight on the covered deck and water when the soil surface is dry to the touch. Though poinsettias will have to be added to my cold-protection plan, the brightly colored, low-maintenance bracts will give me a Florida-Friendly felicitous touch. 

Nickie Munroe is the Environmental Horticulture Agent for the University of Florida’s IFAS Indian River County extension.

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