Bundle Up (Your Plants, That Is)


Don’t get caught off guard by freezing temperatures that damage or kill cold-sensitive plants. Keep your eye on the forecast, and when cold is coming, cover up your plants. Bring container plants inside or put them against a wall and cover them with sheets.

Floridians with beds full of heat-loving plants have some work to do when a freeze is in the forecast. Temperatures that dip below 32 are uncommon in south Florida, but Central and North Floridians need to be prepared.

Do you know which of your plants tolerate cold and which ones need to be protected? Here’s a shortlist of common Florida plants that will be damaged or killed by freezing weather: banana trees, hibiscus, plumeria, bromeliads, orchids, philodendron, bird of paradise, bougainvillea, heliconia, some palms, and some ferns.

Avoid Damage by Freezing Weather

You can save your plants if you take proactive measures before freezing weather hits.

Container Plants and Hanging Plants

Both the roots and the above-ground portions of container plants are vulnerable to damage in a freeze. Roots growing near pot edges are especially susceptible and will turn spongy and black if frozen.

The surest way to save potted plants is to bring them inside for the duration of the freezing weather. “Inside” can mean in a front entryway or inside a garage or shed. Consider parking vehicles outside to make room for plants.

If it’s impossible to bring container plants inside, put them together up against the house or a brick wall or fence. They will be protected from the full impact of cold wind, and they will benefit from the heat given off by the structure.

Container and hanging plants that are isolated and exposed outside must be covered with sheets, pieces of burlap, or thermal blankets. Secure the edges of the fabric, so the wind doesn’t blow it off. If you can put these potted plants together into a group, that will help.

Protecting In-ground Plants

The first step to safeguarding in-ground plants from a freeze is to water the ground during the day. The water will absorb warmth from the soil, hold that warmth, and protect plant roots.

The next step is to push mulch up around the bases of vulnerable plants. No mulch? Use leaves or straw or pine needles.

Now cover the plants with sheets, burlap, or thermal blankets. Anchor the covers so they don’t blow away. You can also cover plants with containers—wooden boxes, cardboard boxes, flowerpots, baskets, cloches, plastic tubs, garbage cans, cooking pots, etc.

Saving Taller Plants

Taller plants, shrubs, and small trees can also be covered.

Another protection strategy is to drive stakes into the ground in a circle around a shrub or small tree, wrap fabric or lengths of plastic around the stakes, and fill the resulting enclosure with pine needles, hay, or leaves.

After the Freezing Weather Passes

Once the temperature has risen, remove all plant coverings. Be especially diligent in removing plastic covers quickly. If you leave plastic over plants in hot weather, it will act as an oven and cook the plants.

Don’t worry if you see brown leaves a few days after coverings are removed. The plant may have sustained damage even with the covering, but it may not be dead. Wait until the chance of freezing weather has passed and then trim away browned leaves.

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