Q: Holy cryonics! My nephew told me if I watered my plants before a Florida freeze, they’d be as hard as a frozen theropod. If that’s the case, how do I protect my landscape investment from Mother Nature’s moods?
A: Your nephew’s been watching way too many dinosaur movies. Well-watered plants have a more established root system and will survive low temps better than those that are drought-stressed. Plus, well-watered soil absorbs more solar radiation than dry. So here’s what you do. When a local freeze is in the forecast, thoroughly irrigate one or two days before the expected night of low temperatures. DO NOT run your irrigation all night during the freeze. A homeowner’s best approach is to just make sure that plants have been watered recently and are not suffering from drought.
Another tip: Provide covering for the tropical plants that will not withstand cold temperatures. Use blankets, sheets or freeze cloth (plastic makes a poor covering). Make sure the material is long enough to drape over the entire plant and reach to the ground, then secure it to the ground with something heavy. The covering should be in place a few hours before the freeze and should be removed the next day when temperatures rise. Coverings left on too long can result in plant damage.
Sometimes a cold spell will last for several days, so after the threat of a freeze is over and temperatures are on the rise, check your plants’ watering needs again. If there’s evidence of plant damage from the cold temperatures, delay severe pruning until the spring or when new growth appears so you’re not removing live wood.
Finally, start thinking of freeze threats before you even put your plants in the ground. Cold-sensitive plants should be placed on the warmest side of your property. A south-facing area surrounded by walls, fences or other plantings often receives added protection from the cold. Also make sure you have a good base of mulch in your shrub beds and around trees; this will help to keep the soil warmer and protect exposed roots. And hedge your bets. Planting a combination of cold-hardy and tender plants will help reduce the risk of total devastation while protecting your landscape investment.
Q: I didn’t see it coming. My plants got hit big time by a freeze and parts of my front hedge are black and withered. What can I do after the fact?
A: Whatever you do, don’t cut off the dead leaves and branches. Doing so is like taking your jacket off. Leaving on dead leaves, fronds and branches (albeit ugly) helps the rest of your plants endure the remainder of the cold season.