Friday, January 15, 2010

Surviving frost damage in the garden

Surviving frost damage in the garden

Over the past two weeks, we have had record low temperatures here in sunny Florida. You have probably stepped outside on more than one morning to ice on your car windshield & a blanket of frost on the ground. The first thing I thought of when I heard the forecast was I had better start covering my landscape plants.


Chances are if you covered your plants as I did you will notice that some of your plants still sustained damage. If the air temperature reaches below 28 degrees, your plants will have some damage regardless. One of the reasons for this is because the soil temperature will be colder than the air temperature. Another factor is how the plants were covered. If you lay a blanket or tarp over the entire plant and the cover is directly touching the plant there will still be damage. It is also important to remove the cover during the day so the plant can warm up. Like most of you, I am to busy to cover & uncover 100 plants everyday for two weeks, so, my plants remained covered.


Some plants tolerate frost & cooler temperatures better than others do. The age and general health of the plant will play a factor in whether or not your plants will survive. Popular plants that usually are killed or damaged by frost include annuals, impatiens, marigolds, coleus & some sub-tropical like hibiscus, citrus & bougainvillea. However, do not give up just yet. Any plant that is still alive will attempt to recover. Many of your perennial plants like salvia & begonias will die back but the roots can survive the winter only to re-sprout in the spring. Same goes for bulb plants like lilies & iris. Even if a plant has lost all of its woody parts, it can re-grow from the root or stem tissue. If you did not think to cover your plants in time or you have frost damage here are some tips to helping your plants survive.


Resist the urge… to prune that is!

With a yard full of damaged, dead looking plants the gardener’s first instinct is to prune. Don’t do it! The damaged leafs can work as an insulator for further damage and will serve as a starting point for new growth in the spring. In fact, heavy pruning can stimulate new growth that could be damaged again if, heaven forbid, we get another cold snap. If the neighborhood association is complaining it’s ok to clean the plants up a little but be sure to leave some of the damage intact.

Hydration is key but no feeding please!

Keep your plants well watered. This may be the most important factor in saving your damaged plants. Windy days will dry up the soil and the frost on the leaf will actually pull water from the leaf causing dehydration. Water your plants but do not fertilize them until spring once they have resumed active growth.


What about my pond plants?

The same rules apply for your pond plants, no pruning or fertilizing. They will actually have a better chance of survival because the water temperature is generally warmer than air temperature & the plants will be well hydrated from the pond water.


Come spring when the weather warms, look for new growth & start pruning. If a plant is truly dead, don’t be too upset. That just means you have an excuse to buy new plants for your garden.



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